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Will D. Campbell 



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Race and the Renewal of the Church 


Gayraud S. Wilmore, General Editor 


and the Renewal 
of the Church 





All rights reserved — no part of this book may 
be reproduced in any form without permission 
in writing from the publisher, except by a re- 
viewer who wishes to quote brief passages in 
connection with a review in magazine or news- 

Scripture quotations from the Revised Standard 
Version of the Bible are copyright, 1946 and 
1952, by the Division of Christian Education 
of the National Council of Churches, and are 
used by permission. 

Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 62-12146 



Foreword 1 

I. Are We Still the Church? 3 

II. The Nature of the Problem 15 

III. The Gods of Law and Order 26 

IV. The Humanistic Detour 36 
V. The Christian Concern and Starting Point 49 

VI. Accomplishments and New Dangers 62 

VII. The Church: Prophet and Conservator 73 

Questions for Study and Discussion 87 



next few years in a series entitled Christian Perspectives 
on Social Problems. This is an attempt to meet a challenge 
from an exceedingly robust minority of laymen for brief, 
readable analyses of cultural problems from a theological 
perspective. It is intended to help them think theologically 
about some of the exasperatingly difficult problems of 
society, both the issues relating to life in America and 
those linking this nation to the destiny of the world. 

Recent researches on family life have found laymen 
obsessed with "loving, happy relations" in the family, with 
child-rearing and personal problems of status and adjust- 
ment, but with little comprehension of how private trou- 
bles bisect public issues. This curious fascination with 
selfhood to the neglect of neighborhood is not, however, a 
universal malaise of Protestantism. A minority, perhaps, 
but a minority that refuses to be lightly regarded by ec- 
clesiastical officialdom, is demanding to know the mean- 
ing of events of our day for the Christian faith and to 
demonstrate the critical and renewing power of faith in 
secular society. 

It is to these doughty men and women that the several 
volumes of the Christian Perspectives on Social Problems 
series are directed, and it is hoped that they not only will 



make for an unsettling reading experience but will provide 
stimulating material for small-group study and discussion. 
To that end, questions for discussion are appended to 
each of the books as starters for fruitful controversy. 

Will Campbell, the author of the present volume, is a 
pioneer trouble shooter in areas of racial tension. He has 
seen at first hand most serious crises in race relations in 
both the North and the South, in an advisory and consul- 
tative capacity for the National Council of Churches. 

Race and the Renewal of the Church is 
wrought out of the frustrations and loneliness of one who 
has borne the brunt of the churches' witness in this 
greatest of all social problems. It is an angry but a com- 
passionate book. Its anger is muted by a deep sense of the 
tragedy of sin with which the whole struggle is suffused 
and by its realism about the necessary means by which 
the church can break through to the segregationist within 
its own ranks. Above the pessimism concerning the wit- 
ness of white Protestantism for racial justice there is here 
an overarching spirit of compassion for the fractured com- 
munity of mankind and a confidence in the victory which 
God can bring out of the weakness of his church. 

This first volume of the series raises a variety of per- 
plexing questions about how the church should proceed 
in its social witness beyond the particular issue of racial 
discrimination. The positions taken here do not neces- 
sarily represent either the official posture of the National 
Council of Churches or the viewpoint of other writers in 
the series. Each of the authors will state his own case. 
Will Campbell ably presents his in these pages. 

Gayraud S. Wilmore 
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 

Chapter I 

Are We Still the Church? 


ready been labeled "the post-Christian era." This is simply 
one measure of the fact that for many people the church 
has become irrelevant. It has waited too long to carry out 
its mandate, and to a large part of the world, what we 
Christians do from here on out really does not matter 
very much. 

Christendom came very close to gaining the whole 
world. It is now, or so say its critics, dangerously close to 
losing its own soul. In no area more crucial to the future 
of the church is this more true than in the area of race 

In this context, to write a book on Christian race rela- 
tions is not only presumptuous; it is downright ludi- 
crous. And yet, if we believe the world will not find 
a better way, we must believe that someday it will turn 
back to the church. That day, however, has not yet 

Let us begin by saying that our concern in this little 
book is not how to reform the world for freedom, justice, 
and democracy. If this was ever the responsibility of the 
church, the opportunity has passed us by. Exciting efforts 
are being made in this direction, but not within our ranks. 
The church has abdicated its position of leadership. If it 



ever was or should have been, it is no longer the initiator 
or prime mover of social reform. 

In Africa and Asia the leadership is found today in 
the tidal wave of nationalism sweeping those two conti- 
nents and carrying their peoples toward political and eco- 
nomic independence. In America, the most promising and 
exciting developments in human relations are taking 
place, not in the churches, but in government. 

The church might have influenced these developments 
by being true to its own nature. It might have determined 
their success or failure, but it failed to act. It waited until 
government took the initiative to rescue human rights. 
And today when the church acts in the human relations 
field, it follows government or political authority. It imi- 
tates the action of the state or it confirms such action with 
a pious benediction. Moreover, when it has acted, the 
church has adopted largely a humanitarian approach. Its 
voice has been too often an echo of the cry for law and 
order, democracy, the rights of man, human dignity, con- 
stitutional process, the public schools. 

These things are good, but are they the most basic, 
most distinctive, concern of the church? In these pages, 
we will try to determine whether our concern is not some- 
thing far more basic and more radical than anything the 
state has said. In the process we will attempt to establish 
that the church's failure in the racial crisis has been not 
functional but organic, not sociological but theological. 
In effect, we have been asking the wrong questions. In- 
stead of demanding, What can the Christian do to im- 
prove race relations? we should be asking, What must the 
Christian be? As the body of Christ, the church first of 
all must be the redeemed community/ Then will it be em- 
powered to redeem the world, and not before. The sin of 
the church is not that it has not reformed society, but 
that it has not realized self-renewal. Its sin is that it has not 
repented. Without repentance there cannot be renewal. 


For the health of our own souls, it might have been 
better if the Supreme Court had not ruled favorably in 
1954 on the subject of race. It might have been better if 
there had been no executive orders from the White House 
on fair employment, integration of the Armed Services, 
and open occupancy in public housing. Then we would 
have been forced to speak, if we spoke at all, from the 
vantage point of the Christian gospel. We would have 
been required to say, Thus saith the Lord! Not, Thus 
saith the law! 

In South Africa, where the full force of law and gov- 
ernment is on the side of segregation and discrimination, 
when churchmen speak they do not echo the state. They 
cannot fall back upon patriotic and legalistic arguments to 
urge their people to do what is right. Those Christians 
who have spoken as the voice of God have often been de- 
posed, arrested for treason, subjected to continuing legal 
and political harassment. But their message has been 
strong and clear. They blow a lonely horn, but for them 
the church has real identity. 

Within recent years some American churchmen have 
insisted that there is no such thing as Christian race rela- 
tions, that our message on this subject is not in the least 
a particular and peculiar one, and that we are, therefore, 
justified in taking our cue from the social sciences or from 
the state. But is this really the case? And if there are in- 
deed no Christian race relations, is it not because the 
Christian message on race is the same as the Christian 
message on every problem of human life? We shall de- 
velop this more fully in a later chapter. 

Why is the church concerned about race? First, let us 
look at the usual reasons. 

The church is not motivated by fear of reprisals by the 
non white peoples of the world, although we must recog- 
nize that such reprisals are a distinct possibility. Both the 
Christian doctrine of sin and the most rudimentary ac- 


quaintance with man's nature make it sentimental and 
unrealistic to suppose that people who have been op- 
pressed and exploited for centuries will reach independ- 
ence and equality filled with love and forgiveness and free 
of any vindictiveness, prejudice, or animosity. 

The Christian understanding of sin makes it highly 
probable that our generation will see white children 
marched into gas chambers by dark masters, clutching 
their little toys to their breasts in Auschwitz fashion. It 
could see senile whites forced to dig their own mass 
grave by a heavily pigmented Eichmann. Even a casual 
glance at history makes this just as probable as does the 
Christian understanding of human sin and the nature of 
man. Americans are not inclined to take this possibility 
seriously, for in this country the lack of superior, sophisti- 
cated Negro leadership is not acute. On a world scale it 
is serious, especially at a time when one miscalculation in 
Moscow or Washington, too much vodka in the Kremlin 
or too much bourbon beside the Potomac, could bring 
forth a day of blinding flashes and lethal explosions which 
would completely redraw the present power alignments. 
Great nations would be as nothing. New emerging nations 
would be great powers. 

Alan Paton, in his poignant novel about life in South 
Africa, Cry, the Beloved Country (Charles Scribner's 
Sons, 1950), had the elderly native preacher comment: 
"My greatest fear is that by the time the whites have 
turned to loving, my people will have turned to hating." 
Recent developments in Paton's country, in the Congo, in 
the United States, and in other parts of the world, have 
already proved that his fear is not unfounded. 

But this cannot be our concern. What may happen 
when black people rather than white people are "on top" 
is irrelevant to our task. Certainly the Christian is con- 
cerned any time brother is killing brother, but there is 
nothing distinctively Christian in being exercised about 


the fact that you may be the Abel rather than the Cain. 
As followers of Jesus Christ we cannot say, "Let us be 
good to nonwhites; otherwise they may eliminate us." 

Nor is our concern with international relations. There 
can be no question about the injurious effect of our poli- 
cies and practices at home on our standing and prestige 
abroad. A riot in New Orleans, Little Rock, or Levittown 
is news throughout Africa, and the bombing of a Jewish 
temple in America may well be welcome propaganda mate- 
rial in Moscow. But this is still not a sufficient reason for 
concern by the church. 

Nor can our concern be the salvaging of our overseas 
mission programs. One denomination that gives $18,- 
500,000 a year to foreign missions and $30,000 for race 
relations (a ratio of 640 to 1) is beginning to take Afri- 
can nationals into local congregations because of what it 
may do for the missions program. But the African people 
will not be deceived, and it is doubtful whether our de- 
sire for better missionary statistics is any more pleasing to 
God than is the hue and cry of the real estate broker 
about depressing "property values." 

Since none of these is reason enough for the church's 
concern, we must now say that this is really not a book 
on race. Nor can it accurately be described as a treatise 
on the church's position with respect to race, or an essay 
on the Bible and race. It is nothing more than an effort 
to discuss something about which the Bible said nothing, 
which the early church ignored, and which the historic 
church has never recognized as a valid concept within its 
own life, but which, nevertheless, has plagued the church 
for ages and is today the most serious issue it has to face. 

Within orthodox Christianity, when race has been 
dealt with — even to the point of organizing segregated 
churches — it has generally been under the cloak of some 
other question: local autonomy, expediency, harmony 
within the fellowship. Seldom has it been under the bold 


banner of race per se. And where this has been the case 
in the historic church, the majority thinking has insisted 
that recognition of race to the point of segregation is not 
in accord with the true faith, but is at best a malignant 
dissidence or schism, and at worst a perilous heresy. 

Because the Christian faith neither recognized nor 
tolerated the idea of race from its earliest beginning, a 
Christian in the field of race relations does not speak as a 
member of a racial group. Because the church did not be- 
gin as a racially segregated (or integrated) institution but 
rather as an institution in which race was irrelevant, the 
Christian does not speak as a white man, a Negro, an 
Oriental, or an Occidental. 

Instead, the Christian speaks as a member of a com- 
munity which has never asked any question save the one 
concerning redemption. What do you think of Jesus? The 
Christian, therefore, speaks as the offspring of a "peculiar 
family," so strange as to be called a tertium genus, a third 
race, a people neither Jew or Greek, bond nor free, em- 
bracing master and slave alike, king and liege equally, 
asking only one question of each: Who, do you believe, is 
this man who is called the Christ? But despite the christ- 
ening of the church as the third race, it has not been 
faithful to its name. Born above race, we have been at- 
tracted to the world of races. We have been a stubborn 
and stiff-necked people and again and again we have for- 
gotten the name we bear. 

To be sure, the church as an institution has made some 
progress in recent decades. When we compare the church 
of today with the church thirty or forty years ago, there 
is a clear line of advance. But as far as race relations are 
concerned, when we compare ourselves to such secular 
agencies as sports organizations, education, government, 
the Armed Forces, and even industry and the labor move- 
ment, we must ask ourselves whether we really are not 
even more backward now than we were three decades ago. 


For example, in organized sports a few years ago Ne- 
groes were not allowed to participate, but they were per- 
mitted to be spectators, although the stands were segre- 
gated in some sections of the country. In the churches the 
same was true. Negroes could generally attend white con- 
gregations but usually could not join or participate in the 
full life of the church. Now, in industry, government, the 
Armed Services, and organized sports, Negroes are be- 
ginning to participate. This, however, has not come about 
in the churches, except on very rare occasions. True, 
there are a few more interracial congregations than pre- 
viously, and some denominations on the national level 
have begun to employ a few Negroes in executive posi- 
tions. But for the most part, there is still a white church 
and a Negro church, just as there once was white baseball 
and Negro baseball. Relatively speaking, the church is 
farther behind than ever. 

We have now come to the whole point of this rather 
painful disclosure. We must ask ourselves, earnestly and 
prayerfully, whether we are still the church. If we dis- 
cover that God has turned to other vehicles, it will not be 
because he has left his people, but because the people 
have left God. The Temple of Israel was finally brought 
low, not because God had ceased to be the God of the 
people, but because the people had ceased to be the people 
of God; the Temple had become a market place and a 
symbol of national idolatry. 

The church is not the church because of what man is 
and has done but because of what God is and has done 
through Christ. The first mark of the church is that it be- 
longs to Christ. Yet we find ourselves speaking of "our 
church" and "their church," and of how "they seem to 
want to come to our church." As members of the body, 
we are clearly usurping the power that belongs only to 
the head of the body. These things are not ours to decide. 

The Christian message on race relations is, "God was 


in Christ reconciling the world to himself" (II Cor. 
5:19). Throughout the New Testament, Christ's work 
of reconciliation re-establishes not only the father-son re- 
lationship but the brother-brother relationship. These are 
not two separate truths somehow related and requiring 
proper balance. Nor are they mutually related; they are 
one and the same truth. The New Testament writer who 
said "God was in Christ" said a few sentences earlier (v. 
16), "From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a 
human point of view." This was to insist that those who 
are received into this fellowship, into the community of 
the redeemed, the church, are to be seen, not as they once 
were — Asians, Africans, Jews, Greeks, slave, free, male, 
female, not in any of these human categories or classifica- 
tions — but in a new category or a new classification. 

"Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new crea- 
tion; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come." 
(II Cor. 5:17.) Thus for the Christian to continue to 
place his brothers and sisters in Christ into the old classi- 
fications is for him to deny the faith he claims. It is pre- 
cisely at this point — the denial of the faith in the name of 
the faith — that the church is most in danger of losing its 
life. For the apostle Paul, whose words we have just cited, 
continued: ". . . and entrusting to us the message of rec- 
onciliation" (II Cor. 5: 19). But how can we preach the 
message of reconciliation if we are a living denial of it? 
If we deny that message of reconciliation entrusted to us, 
are we in fact still the church? 

This question has many hazards. John Calvin said: 
"We have no right lightly to abandon the church because 
it is not perfect." Certainly all branches of the holy catho- 
lic church are subject to error and do err. Certainly all 
individual members of the corporate body are subject to 
sin and do sin. The church does not cease to be the 
church because it errs or because its members continue in 
sin. The institution may be able to neglect its mission and 


remain the church. But there is real doubt that it can 
both neglect its mission and deny its very nature and yet 
remain the church. 

When the church excludes those who come crying for 
inclusion, confessing their sins, professing belief in the 
Lordship of Christ; when it views fellow believers through 
human categories and classifications, it is denying its na- 
ture. For the church, by nature, is inclusive and corpo- 
rate. One cannot say, "I will live in fellowship with all 
who believe in the same Lord as I, provided they do not 
come from Philadelphia." Being from Philadelphia, being 
a white man or a Negro, is a human category, and, fol- 
lowing the apostle Paul, "from now on ... we regard no 
one from a human point of view" (II Cor. 5:16). There 
is now only one category for those who are Christ's, and 
we cannot arbitrarily rule otherwise. Race is a human 
category and is not one of the questions the church asks. 
Therefore, when we ask about the race of a fellow Chris- 
tian, explicitly or implicitly, we are not being true to our 
nature as Christ's people. 

The same truth holds when we evangelize according to 
racial neighborhoods or racial households. This is to neg- 
lect the true purpose of our mission. God has entrusted 
to us his message of reconciliation. When we withhold it, 
when we pass over a geographical locale because "they are 
not our people," we are neglecting or betraying our mis- 
sion. God has created this new humanity, this new crea- 
tion — the church — "to preach good news to the poor, 
... to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of 
sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are op- 
pressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord" 
(Luke 4:18-19, from Isa. 61:1-2). If the church re- 
gards people from a human point of view in the pursuit 
of this mission, it neglects the calling and the charge that 
its Lord has laid upon it. 

Of course, the segregationist will say; "But I can love 


the member of a minority group, I can have his welfare 
at heart, I can do all the good things one Christian might 
be expected to do for another and still insist that he stay 
in a separate neighborhood, school, and church." 

Two things must be said in answer to this. First of all, 
Christ left us no such freedom. The nature of the church 
denies us such a privilege. As members of the corporate 
body of Christ, we may not classify or categorize. "The 
eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of you. . . . On 
the contrary, the parts of the body which seem to be 
weaker are indispensable." (I Cor. 12:21—22.) Thus, 
even if one could prove that a racial group or any other 
human category is inferior, low in morals, lazy, shiftless, 
lower in intelligence, given to various weaknesses of char- 
acter, the New Testament tells us that these are all ex- 
cellent reasons for that group to be included. 

The second thing that must be said to the segregation- 
ist who insists that he can love his brother and still re- 
strict his freedom through a system of segregation is that 
this simply is not true. Who, having two children, can 
claim to love them equally if he puts one in a room — 
which he himself selects — gives that child the same toys, 
clothes, food, and medical care as the other child whom 
he has not restricted to an assigned room but has given 
the freedom of the house and grounds, including even the 
room assigned to the first child? The segregationist is 
often honest and sincere in his belief that he loves the 
minority person whom he restricts, but we may well ques- 
tion whether he really knows the meaning of love. 

We must say, then, frankly recognizing the danger of 
such a position, that at some point, some very fine but 
very real point, it is possible for the church to cease to be 
the church, and that at that point it should identify itself 
by some other name. 

During World War II, because of the extreme shortage 
of coffee in Europe, authorities began putting small 


amounts of parched barley in the brew. Since no one could 
tell the difference, the amount was gradually increased. 
Eventually the people were drinking nothing but parched 
barley. But the change had come so gradually that many 
thought they were drinking the finest coffee. 

There are two remarkable things about this story. The 
first is that so few people knew the difference. The sec- 
ond is that those who were responsible for it and who did 
know the difference insisted that this was indeed coffee 
their people were drinking and that it was a superior 
coffee to that of other countries. It did not contain caf- 
feine, the aroma was more pleasant, it was easier on the 
digestive system. 

Despite the fact that these things were true and per- 
haps desirably so, the true lover of coffee would have to 
differ with this reasoning and say that the people were 
drinking something other than coffee. The question is: 
How much barley can be put into coffee and still have 
coffee? When should it begin to be called by some other 
name? Or, with respect to the question now before us: 
How far can the church wander from its mission and na- 
ture and still remain the church? 

The Christian faith certainly can be changed at many 
points so as to make it conform more to my personal pref- 
erences, more palatable, more easily acceptable, more in 
keeping with my culture and my way of life. But the 
question is: Will it be a Christian church when we have 
finished with this adjustment to human desires, needs, 
prides, and prejudices? 

An adherent of the free church tradition always hesi- 
tates to use the term "heresy." But what we have been 
saying is that racism has negated so much of the mission 
and nature of the church in America that there is no 
other name for it except that opprobrious term — heresy. 
It is the question that was raised for us by the parable of 
the "barley-coffee" that made heresy extremely serious 


and dangerous throughout the history of the church. It is 
not that the heretics wished to oppose the true faith. On 
the contrary, they argued that they alone held the true 

The task of the church would be considerably less ar- 
duous and difficult if the racist would denounce the 
church. He seldom does this. Far more often he will claim 
to be defending the faith when he expounds his racial 
theories. He may denounce the clergy, or certain boards 
or bishops, but always the racist insists that the Christian 
faith does not really mean what that clergy or that board 
or that bishop says it means. It is the bishop, the minister, 
or the priest who is apostate. The racist is orthodox. It is 
he who loves the church and must protect it from those 
who preach false doctrines and would deceive the people. 

Here the failure of the church today becomes patent — 
not because the church today spawns heresy. That has 
always been so. There is no reason to believe that Chris- 
tian doctrine will ever be free of misunderstanding and 
willful distortion. The contemporary church has failed 
because it has not learned how to prevent racism from 
poisoning its life and mission. When one, within the 
church and in the church's name, justifies and presents a 
wholly un-Biblical doctrine of creation, redemption, and 
life in the Spirit, founded on racist presuppositions and 
prejudices, he is living in serious heresy; and the church, 
if it is to save its own life, must somehow learn to deal 
with him. In so doing, it does not tremble for its physical, 
institutional life; but it remembers that it has not been 
called to great numbers or great wealth, but to wholeness 
and health. 

Chapter II 

The Nature of the Problem 


It means the Ku Klux Klan and a large part of the White 
Citizens' Councils who support the strict separation of 
racial groups without reference to any other values. 

It means the session member who says he would not 
object to having his children attend Sunday school with 
members of another race or living in an integrated neigh- 
borhood, but will not allow it because he fears it will lead 
to intermarriage. 

It means the rapidly increasing Black Muslim move- 
ment among urban Negroes. This movement, whose mem- 
bership lists are estimated to contain between 100,000 
and 250,000 persons, advocates violence similar to that 
of the Klan. Unlike the "Uncle Toms" among Negroes 
who favored segregation because they derived some per- 
sonal benefit from it, the Black Muslims oppose integra- 
tion on the grounds that the white man is inferior and 
unfit for full citizenship in the coming black society. Not 
integration, but separation and the founding of a black 
nation on American soil, is their cry. Theirs is the voice 
of the disillusioned Negro masses. 

The term "segregationist" means the Montgomery 
woman who held her small child in her arms during a 
mob attack on bus riders, and clung to the hair of a 



Negro girl in an effort to pull her close enough for the 
lad to strike her in the face with his little fists. 

It means the Governor of Alabama whose repeated 
vitriolic outbursts inflamed the passions of the mob and 
by innuendo invited violence. It means state legislators 
who use every conceivable device to evade the law of the 
land. It means the gentle dowager, or, as reported by the 
Attorney General of California, "little old ladies in tennis 
shoes" who dearly love their maids, their cooks, and their 
cocker spaniels, but believe that the term "civil rights" is 
a communist slogan. 

"Segregationist" means restricted neighborhoods in 
Westchester County, New York, or hooded night riders in 
Mississippi. It is the Tennessee Society for the Mainte- 
nance of Segregation or the New England congregation 
that generously builds a mission for the colored people 
because "they will be happier with their own people." 

The truth is that "segregationist" means most of us in 
one form or to one degree. It does not mean only the rabid 
and lunatic fringe that expends all of its energy in race 
hatred. For the Christian, it must also mean anyone who 
regards people "from a human point of view," and who 
classifies and categorizes members within the body of 

Anyone who believes that discrimination and prejudice 
are peculiar to the southern region of America has only to 
look at the list of hate groups that have been active over 
the past decade. Although most of the new organizations 
that have sprung up since the Supreme Court's 1954 de- 
cision are located in the South, older and more estab- 
lished groups with headquarters in other regions have 
published the major portion of hate literature in this 

Such organizations as the Christian Nationalist Cru- 
sade, headed by Gerald L. K. Smith, of Los Angeles, the 
American Nationalists of Inglewood, California, and the 


group that publishes Common Sense in Union, New 
Jersey, have blanketed areas of unrest. They have served 
as catalysts of violence in community after community, 
North and South. 

Notwithstanding the fact that anti-Semitism has been 
the chief stock in trade of these organizations, they have 
more recently adopted the racial crisis as the chief vehicle 
by which to peddle their wares of suspicion and rancor. 
This has served more to stir anti-Negro feeling in the 
North than it has to arouse anti-Semitism in the South. 
Generally speaking, a dormant form of racial prejudice is 
more prevalent in the North than is religious bigotry (es- 
pecially anti-Semitism) in the South. 

While the Southern resistance groups have far more 
respectability than their Northern counterparts, both 
couch their purposes in lofty, culturally approved, and 
generalized terms. For example, the White Citizens' 
Council of Mississippi has as its slogan : "Dedicated to the 
maintenance of peace, good order, and domestic tran- 
quillity in our communities and in our state and to the 
preservation of our state's rights." 

Such high-sounding phrases create an aura of respect- 
ability about the movement and permit the central organ- 
ization to be free of responsibility for the often drastic 
pronouncements and actions of local units. However, the 
organizations themselves make no attempt to conceal 
their belief in white supremacy, biologically, socially, 
ethically, and politically. They are categorically opposed 
to desegregation in schools, churches, and public accom- 
modations, and frequently object to Negroes' registering 
and voting. The political strength of these groups is im- 
pressive. At the beginning, most of them disclaimed any 
political ambitions. This is no longer the case. Such 
groups now have virtually absolute power in one state in 
the South and are a significant political factor in several 
others. It is evident that they are not concerned only with 


race. In 1955, W. J. Simmons, executive secretary of the 
Mississippi Citizens' Council, had this to say: 

I think . . . [the White Citizens' Council] is much more than 
a white supremacist group, and I think it is much more than 
a protectionist group. I think it is fundamentally the first real 
stirrings of a conservative revolt in this country, judging by 
the responses we've gotten from other states. . . . Some of the 
people who are attracted to this movement may not be con- 
cerned about the Negro. 

Developments since Simmons' statement was voiced 
have proved his observation to be an accurate appraisal of 
the situation. Many politically conservative and reac- 
tionary organizations, among them the John Birch So- 
ciety, have become working allies with the White Citi- 
zens' Councils. While the councils are most concerned 
With the preservation of segregation, they will gladly 
co-operate with other groups whose diverse aims may be, 
for example, to abolish the income tax or prevent the 
fluoridation of water. Put them all together, and in some 
sections of the country and on some issues you have a 
powerful political movement. 

What does all this have to do with the renewal of the 
church? A great deal. First of all because these groups 
have succeeded in creating the image of a holy crusade. 
Some of them deliberately and with astute calculation see 
the churches as a convenient "front" for their activities. 
For example, Robert B. Patterson, secretary of the Citi- 
zens' Councils of America, told a group in New Orleans 
that they should infiltrate the churches and there take 
the offensive against "the mixing of the races." 

"By organizing within churches," said Patterson, "foes 
of integration could bring pressure on ministers to sup- 
port segregation and change the position of state and na- 
tional church organizations which have endorsed mixing 
of races." He added with solemnity: "We love our 


churches just like we love our schools, and we want to 
preserve them." Protestant Patterson's advice seems to 
have been followed by a number of well-known Roman 
Catholics, and it appears that it was this kind of "creeping 
Protestantism" that disturbed the Archbishop to the point 
of exercising the seldom used but powerful weapon of ex- 

But while the ultimate allegiance of spokesmen such 
as Patterson is to racial hate and while their manipulation 
of the churches is coldly calculated, by far the greatest 
number of these people are convinced that their cause 
is just and righteous. They are convinced that God is on 
their side. In seeking to maintain segregation they are 
doing nothing less than his will. Indeed, one of the great- 
est dangers we face is that the racial doctrine of white 
supremacy which has always been an element of secular 
culture in America will become a part of the church's 
body of dogma, an unwritten article of faith. 

Perhaps the following story will illustrate how this 
gloomy prospect can actually be realized. One of my 
earliest recollections is of sitting one evening in a rural 
church in a Deep South county and watching the Ku 
Klux Klan file solemnly into the little frame building. In 
the ceremony that followed, a large pulpit Bible was 
presented by the Klansmen to the congregation and was 
accepted by the revival preacher. On the back cover of 
the book was stamped in brazen letters: K.K.K. 

Several years ago I was preaching in that same pulpit 
and as I held the back cover of the Bible while reading 
the Scripture, my fingers moved across those large, em- 
bossed letters. Later in the afternoon, talking with several 
members of the congregation, I asked them what they 
thought about having a pulpit Bible in their church that 
had been given by the Klan and bore its symbol. Although 
these were people who had lived their entire lives in that 
community and who had been present at that original 


Klan ceremony, each one stated that he had quite forgot- 
ten the incident and had never known that the letters 
K.K.K. were raised on the back cover of the Bible on their 

The greatest test and danger facing the Christian 
church in America is not racism as such, but that racism 
has become, consciously or unconsciously, a part of the 
faith. The Klan no longer exists in that rural community, 
but it has left its stamp not only on the cover of the 
Bible but on the minds and hearts of the present genera- 
tion and those yet unborn. The groups which now have 
the prestige and power that formerly was the Klan's — 
the White Citizens' Councils and the John Birch Society 
— will also pass away. But the seedlings they are planting 
today will grow and thrive for a long, long time. And 
these seedlings are essentially religious in character. Most 
of what is written and distributed by groups seeking to 
subvert the law of church and nation has a basically reli- 
gious theme. Religious meaning is increasingly being 
written into the race literature of the hate groups and 
no subject arouses more religious support in America 
today than the subject of race. The segregationists in pew 
and pulpit who appeal to such authority are not simply 
resorting to rationalization. The stamp of racism has be- 
come a part of their religious heritage, and for them the 
integrationists are those who are apostate. In the eyes of 
the segregationist, the man who believes in racial justice 
denies the faith. The true defender of Christianity is 
he who would keep the races forever separate in the 
church and in the society. 

As indicated earlier, the task of the churches would be 
less difficult if the segregationist would say : "I like segre- 
gation in my church and neighborhood and school, and 
I am going to keep it that way no matter what Christ 
or the Bible or the church say to the contrary." If that 
were the situation we faced, the churches could simply 


put their numerous mission boards and departments of 
evangelism to work converting the heathen. But instead, 
the segregationist defends white supremacy in God's 
name. With Bible in his hand, and chapter and verse on 
his lips, he presents and documents his arguments. In the 
name of God he denies the love, mercy, justice, and judg- 
ment of God, and it is virtually impossible to break 
through and reach him. 

The attempt must be made, however, and sometimes 
it is effectively accomplished on the level of Scripture. 
One of the Biblical passages most often quoted by the 
racists is the Genesis story of creation. (Indeed, a critic 
once remarked, somewhat unjustly, of a Nashville segre- 
gationist minister: "His trouble is that he never got any 
farther in the Bible than Genesis.") Let us now examine 
that well-known but much misused account of Creation. 

"The blue birds and the red birds don't fly together," 
say the segregationists. It's true. They don't. And the 
Genesis account tells why: 

"And God said, 'Let the earth put forth vegetation, 
plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit . . . 
each according to its kind.' . . . And it was so. The earth 
brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according 
to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is 
their seed, each according to its kind. . . . God created the 
great sea monsters and every living creature that moves 
. . . according to their kinds, and every winged bird 
according to its kind. . . . 

"And God said, 'Let the earth bring forth living 
creatures according to their kinds: cattle and creeping 
things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.' 
And it was so. And God made the beasts of the earth 
according to their kinds and the cattle according to their 
kinds, and everything that creeps upon the ground ac- 
cording to its kind." (Gen. 1:11-12, 21, 24-25; italics 


". . . Each according to its kind." This is probably 
the most important passage of Scripture in any treatment 
of race. The phrase, or a slight variation of it, appears no 
fewer than ten times in this account. But suddenly a 
dramatic change takes place: "Then God said, 'Let us 
make man in our image after our likeness' " (Gen. 1 :26, 
italics added). 

All the other creatures had been made "each accord- 
ing to its kind," but man was made in the image and 
likeness of God! Thus man became the highest of God's 
creatures — not some men, by man! But there is still an- 
other significant note in this story. God made man in his 
own image. Certainly that alone makes man of consider- 
able importance. But he also made him out of dirt! Man 
is at once made after the image of God and created out 
of that lowly commodity — dirt! 

Various doctrines have sprung from these two facets of 
the Creation story. Some have emphasized the idea of 
man being a little lower than the angels and in the image 
of God and have insisted that he is therefore the very 
heart and center of the universe. Others have insisted 
that being made from dirt, man is precisely that — dirt, 
with all the connotation which that humble substance 
brings to mind. At this point it is not important which 
is the correct emphasis or interpretation. What is im- 
portant is that whatever is true of a man, he is God's 
creature and he is one and inseparable from every other 
human creature. 

The account of Creation, of course, does not really have 
to do with race. It has to do with grace; with what we 
could not do for ourselves because we were not. It is 
something unearned, undeserved, something we could 
not even ask for, because we were without existence and 
without power until God performed his creative act. For 
the segregationist to question creation is to question God's 
grace, for creation is grace — nothing less nor more. "It 


is he that made us and we are his. (Ps. 100:3.) And 
whether we are a little lower than the angels or as lowly 
as dirt, God made us, and neither the color of the angels 
above us nor the color of the dirt beneath our feet is 

Interestingly enough, if the color of the dirt of which 
we are made is important, it really adds credence to the 
Black Muslim argument for black supremacy. For so- 
called white man isn't white at all but is about the color 
of hill clay, and anyone who has ever been a farmer 
knows hill clay won't grow much of anything except 
crowder peas and pine trees, while dark soil is always at 
a premium! But whatever we men are made of, one thing 
is certain — we are all of the same stuff. All of us are 
in the same boat and the boat is captained, not by our- 
selves, but by God. It is the captain above who has the 
right to rank and place the passengers, and God has given 
no indication that this is done on the basis of race. 

The church must be concerned with the segregationist 
not only because he is within the institution, but espe- 
cially and above all because he too is a child of God. He 
too is a brother. The church cannot force the racist out 
of its fellowship by any arbitrary or highhanded disci- 
pline. The church must understand him, but at the same 
time it must not permit understanding him to mean that 
its own policy becomes silence or inaction. There is no 
one in America more troubled, more distressed, than the 
pastor who truly understands, who looks out over his 
congregation and his city and understands that his people 
are, at least in part, victims of the bitter crop of the 
seeds of time and the inexplicable forces of modernity 
which they did not plant, whose furrows they did not 
cultivate, but whose harvest is imposed upon them. At 
the same time such a pastor will know that he has no 
choice but to preach the uncompromising and scandaliz- 
ing imperatives of the gospel. Jesus understood the real 


condition of the people of Jerusalem, but the knowledge 
that certain social and political factors played a role in the 
popular customs and ethos of the city did not keep him 
from entering Jerusalem and turning it upside down. 

The racist is the greatest challenge the church faces 
today in both the North and the South. One might say 
that he is the true adolescent of adult Christianity; the 
most unlovely and the most in need of love. Certainly the 
church must not tolerate what he stands for, but it must 
not abandon him in its attempt to force him to maturity. 
Those of us who consider ourselves the children of light 
with respect to our attitudes and practices in race relations 
must ask ourselves what happened in our lives to make us 
so different from the racist. What combination of genes, 
what freak of historical circumstance and personal asso- 
ciation, gave us vision to see the truth? Even if God laid 
his hands on us, even if some are chosen, to what credit 
can we claim, what reason have we to boast, and what 
right to condemn? Somehow we cannot hate the racist, 
for most of us do not know how or when we left his 
ranks, if we have left them at all. 

I have seen and known the resentment of the racist, 
his hostility, his frustration, his need for someone upon 
whom to lay blame and to punish. I know he is mistaken, 
misguided, and willfully disobedient, but somehow I am 
not able to distinguish between him and myself. My sins 
may not be his, but they are no less real and no less 
heinous. Perhaps I have been too close to this man. Per- 
haps if I had not heard his anguished cry when the rains 
didn't come in time to save his cotton, if I had not felt 
the severity of his economic deprivation, if I had not 
looked upon his agony on Christmas Eve while I, his six- 
year-old child, feigning sleep, waited for a Santa who 
would never come; if I had not been one of him through 
these gales of tragedy, I would be able to condemn him 
without hesitation. If I had not shared his plight; if I had 


not lived with him in an atmosphere of suspicion, distrust, 
ignorance, misinformation, and nefarious political leader- 
ship, surely my heart would break less when I see him 
fomenting mob violence in front of his schoolhouse and 
his church house. Perhaps I would not pity him as much 
if I were not from his loins. But pity him I do. 

But the church must not pity the racist. It must love 
and redeem him. It must somehow set him free/ With the 
same love that it is commanded to shower upon the inno- 
cent victim of his frustration and hostility, the church 
must love the racist. Moreover, the church is called to love 
those who use and exploit both the racists and their vic- 
tims for personal wealth and political gain. The church 
must stand in love and judgment upon the victim, the 
victimized, and those, both black and white, who exploit 
both, for they are all the children of God. 

Chapter III 

The Gods of Law and Order 


nations in the United States were relatively silent on the 
question of race. Since that year innumerable statements, 
resolutions, and pronouncements on segregation and dis- 
crimination have come from virtually all the major Prot- 
estant groups. Many of them begin by endorsing the 
Supreme Court decision of May 17, 1954, on segregation 
in public education. Most of them call for harmonious 
relations and a calm acceptance of what the court has 
decreed. Almost all deplore violence, but few choose to 
vex themselves with the thought of what their position 
would be if the court's decision and Christian doctrine 
were not in agreement. Indeed, it would almost appear 
that the court had made a decision binding upon Chris- 
tians that the churches had no competence to make for 

Before 1954, most liberal churches and churchmen 
were not insistent upon a doctrinaire position of strict 
obedience to the law. Today the American churches argue 
that segregation must be abolished because it is illegal. 
It is interesting to note, however, that for some years, at 
least a few churches and churchmen occasionally ad- 
monished their people to join in disobedience to law if 
such law was patently contrary to the will of God. 



For example, delivering the Knapp Lecture at the 
University of Wisconsin on March 19, 1952, Chancellor 
Harvie B. Branscomb, of Vanderbilt University, said: 

The second contribution which religion has made to American 
life has been the insistence upon a law of God which is 
supreme above all human institutions and man-made legis- 
lation. To this divine law man owes final obedience. If the 
laws of state or government deviate from this standard, they 
have no moral authority and, in fact, should be disregarded or 
rejected. ("The Contribution of Moral and Spiritual Ideas to 
the Making of The American Way of Life," p. 11.) 

Eight years later, one of Chancellor Branscomb's stu- 
dents, the Rev. James M. Lawson, Jr., had this to say 
about the breaking of law: 

Defiant violation of the law is a contradiction of my entire 
understanding of and loyalty to Christian nonviolence. When 
the Christian considers the concept of civil disobedience as 
an aspect of nonviolence, it is only within the context of a 
law or a law enforcement agency which has in reality ceased 
to be the law, and then the Christian does so only in fear 
and trembling before God. (Nashville Banner, March 3, 

Even a cursory glance at these two statements will show 
that Chancellor Branscomb's words are considerably more 
emphatic and uncompromising than those of the student. 
Yet Mr. Lawson was expelled from Vanderbilt by the 
chancellor on the allegation that he "advocated a planned 
campaign of civil disobedience." 

There is no evidence to suggest that Chancellor Brans- 
comb was insincere either in 1952 or in 1960. It seems 
more likely that the events of the past eight years brought 
a change in his position. Dr. Branscomb has never favored 
racial segregation in his public policies and has worked 
diligently to effect desegregation on his own campus. 
Prior to 1954 he had insisted that if the laws of the state 
were in conflict with the laws of God, the laws of the 


state should be disregarded or rejected. In fact, he did 
disregard them when he desegregated Vanderbilt Univer- 
sity, for the law of Tennessee holds that private schools 
may not have Negroes and whites in the same classrooms. 
As late as 1960 he was still speaking in behalf of racial 
justice, but now he maintained that this must be accom- 
plished within the framework of man-made, not God- 
ordained, legislation. 

There seems to have been a similar change in the posi- 
tion of many of the churches. The churches with dispatch 
adopted the dictum that the clear duty of the Christian 
is always to obey the law when, in 1954, the law became 
what the churches wanted it to be. Advising their people 
to desegregate because the law said to do so seemed less 
risky than taking a bold position based on the Christian 
doctrine of man, the Biblical imperative of justice, and 
the doctrine of the sovereignty of God. 

But the worship of law proved quickly to be a two- 
edged sword. For the integrationist Christian it was 
pleasant to be able to say, "The law is on our side!" But 
the segregationist Christian was able to argue on the same 
basis. Particularly in the South, he had clear and un- 
equivocal legislation at the state and local levels which 
explicitly forbade any form of racial mixing. He could 
argue convincingly that there is nothing in the Christian 
body of doctrine which holds that federal laws are any 
more sacred than state or local laws. 

The legal argument within the churches made for 
further confusion when those favoring desegregation be- 
gan arguing for disobedience to law in the sit-in movement 
during 1959—1960. The General Assembly of The United 
Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., meeting in May, 
1960, went on record as advocating a degree of civil dis- 
obedience when it said among other things: "Affirming 
that some laws and customs requiring racial discrimination 
are, in our judgment, such serious violations of the law 


of God as to justify peaceable and orderly disobedience 
or disregard of these laws . . ." The National Council of 
the Protestant Episcopal Church and several other groups 
took similar positions. One could assume that this was a 
swing away from the "let us obey the law" position which 
developed immediately following the Supreme Court de- 
cision of 1954 and a stronger ground upon which to 
fight. But one week after the United Presbyterian General 
Assembly took its action in Cleveland, a spokesman for 
the White Citizens' Council in New Orleans strongly 
recommended and called for a campaign of civil disobedi- 
ence (as a matter of conscience) to combat desegregation 
of the New Orleans public schools! On the other hand, 
in Montgomery, Alabama, when Negro demonstrators 
were rudely handled by state and city police and a group 
of citizens who had been quickly deputized as a mounted 
force to assist in the brutal dispersion of the demon- 
strators, the local ministerial alliance had the following 
to say : 

Let us continue to depend upon law and order administered 
with a concern for all citizens to stabilize our society. 

The appeal to law is at best a confused picture within 
the churches. We must say quite frankly that it appears 
that the churches have often used it to evade their deeper 
responsibility. It has been the easy way. But the church 
has not always appealed to law for the Tightness of its 
action. Here is another kind of statement regarding this 
problem : 

We believe it is sinful to have two congregations in the same 
community for persons of separate and distinct races. That 
race prejudice would cause trouble in the churches we know. 
It did this in apostolic days. Not once did the apostles sug- 
gest that they should form separate congregations for the dif- 
ferent races. But they always admonished them to unity, 
forbearance, love, and brotherhood in Christ Jesus. 


Upon first glance this would appear to be just another 
statement among the reams of resolutions and pronounce- 
ments that have heated the presses for the past seven 
years. And it would surely be assumed that such a state- 
ment represents the view of the more liberal church bod- 
ies, for it moves far beyond schools, parks, and lunch 
counters; and it affirms without equivocation that if there 
are two congregations in one town because of race, one 
of them should be abandoned. Actually the statement 
comes from one of the most conservative groups in Prot- 
estantism. The man who wrote it was far from notorious 
for his social liberalism. He was David Lipscomb, a 
Church of Christ evangelist. He made the statement in an 
article on "Race Prejudice," in the February, 1878, issue 
of Gospel Advocate, when a Texas Church of Christ con- 
gregation objected to a Negro who sought to affiliate with 
the local church. David Lipscomb was one of the foremost 
leaders of that denomination, and one of its colleges 
(still segregated) bears his name today. 

Lipscomb's statement is important for several reasons. 
In the first place it is generally thought that we have come 
a long way in race relations since 1878 and that if given 
time, patience, and understanding we will "work this 
thing out" in our churches. Yet in 1878 a spokesman 
for the most conservative group called it a sin to have 
separate congregations because of race, while almost a 
hundred years later in the most liberal groups we still 
have, not only racial congregations, but racial synods in 
the Presbyterian Church, the Central Jurisdiction for 
Negroes in the Methodist, separate judicatories in almost 
every communion, and a racial ministry in all. 

But an even more remarkable feature of this statement, 
in the light of which we might re-examine our own posi- 
tions, is that it made no appeal to harmony or to the law. 
Many church appeals and pronouncements today are 
based on one or the other of these prime values. Lips- 


comb's was not. With respect to harmony within the fel- 
lowship, he did not try to avoid conflict but seemed to 
think that harmony or its absence was irrelevant to the 
question at hand. In an almost casual manner he moved 
on to state what was for him the heart of the matter. 
Apparently to this spokesman of a group sometimes re- 
ferred to as a "fringe sect," the problem of Christian be- 
havior had nothing to do with what people wanted to 
do, or were ready to do, or with what did or did not 
violate the local mores. Like many before his time and 
since, Lipscomb recognized the test that the church 
faced by its double concern for conformity and loyalty 
to God. Implicit in his statement was what social scientists 
have indicated in our own time: there is a difference be- 
tween prejudice and discrimination, between feeling and 
behavior. In effect, Lipscomb said: Surely there is such a 
thing as race prejudice in all of us who are in the 
churches, and it will cause trouble. So what? His was the 
strange notion that Christian behavior had to do only 
with the uncompromising demands of Almighty God as 
revealed through the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. 

Contrast this to our day when cardinal virtues are 
harmony within the fellowship, peace, good will, "tact" 
on the part of the preacher, dignity and respectability of 
approach, law and order, constitutions, status, preserva- 
tion of public schools and property values. All these values 
are important to us and doubtless were to the group for 
whom Mr. Lipscomb spoke, but they did not seem prim- 
ary. Lipscomb made no appeal to law, to the courts, to 
democracy, or to any political ideology. His was a simple 
proclamation: "Thus saith the Lord." This despite the 
fact that the Emancipation Proclamation and the tumult 
of Reconstruction were as close to him and fully as con- 
troversial as recent Supreme Court decisions on civil 
rights are to us. 

If arguments for law and order, peace and harmony, 


are irrelevant to the church's concern on race, so are ap- 
peals to the social sciences and humanitarianism. These 
are all valuable and valid approaches, but they are not 
the distinctive approaches of the church. Law and order is 
the business of government, social science is the concern 
of the sociologists and anthropologists, and humanitarian- 
ism is the inspiration of thousands of dedicated men and 
women who spend their lives alleviating human suffer- 
ing. All of these have a place in the church; and the 
church, which has learned much from these sources, 
cannot ignore them. But the church must not be distracted 
by them. Its concern is more profound and more radical 
than any of these. 

The advocate of racial justice often loses the argument 
because he permits his antagonist to choose the weapon 
and field of battle. The racist usually meets us on socio- 
logical grounds, and we become social scientists because it 
is so simple to refute his arguments one by one, and we 
are deluded into believing that thereby we have won the 
day. He says the minority group is dirt, is low in intelli- 
gence and lax in morals, is less ambitious, doesn't pay 
his just share of the taxes, is shiftless, lazy, and uncouth. 
Such arguments are easy to answer on sociological 
grounds. We can explain to him that he really means 
achievement and not intelligence, and we can point out 
why this is true. It is no difficult matter to show that 
morality is a relative matter. The double standard and the 
success of the majority group in keeping its questionable 
morals under wraps will document the case. We can say 
that a group which is the last to be hired and the first 
to be fired would understandably have less ambition, for 
what is the use of trying under such circumstances? We 
can say that taxes are paid on income, and if we give the 
minority jobs with higher income, they would then pay 
more taxes. We can skillfully puncture the racist's stereo- 
types one by one. But generally he remains unconvinced. 


The real question takes us in another direction. Why 
should we rely upon our knowledge of the social sciences 
when there is a Christian answer? If we use that answer, 
if we pick the field of battle, the segregationist has less 
advantage. The Christian answer is that whether or not 
his analysis is correct, God has not called us into the body 
of Christ, into the fellowship of the redeemed, the church, 
because we are clean or have superior intelligence or high 
morals. He has called us into a fellowship in which we 
are all unclean, lazy, uncouth, lax in morality, low in 
ambition; in which we are all undeserving yet loved and 
accepted of God, our common Father. In our present 
state of sophistication in the churches we might find it 
difficult to give this answer, but it is nearer the truth than 
the attempt to refute racial stereotypes. Race is not a ra- 
tional matter. The consciousness of race, ethnocentrism, 
as even some social scientists admit, is largely a state of 
mind and it is difficult to combat a state of mind by 
logical refutation. God made no such approach when he 
brought man into being and when he stooped to save him. 
His move was irrational, foolishness, a stumbling block. 
A king was born amidst sheep manure and murdered as 
an enemy of the people and a subverter of the state. What 
possible rational argument can we devise from the story 
of Creation and redemption. And yet this is all we have 
to offer. This is the distinctive Christian apologia. 

Why should we not grant the segregationist his facts? 
They are not always accurate. But what if they are? Let 
others boast of facts! Ours is a faith that transcends facts 
to lay hold upon truth. Our task is not to refute by facts, 
but to lead the racist to see that when he confronts the 
Christ he claims to serve, his facts are irrelevant. 

From a rational point of view, the segregationist some- 
times has sound arguments. And the churches themselves 
have sometimes used the same arguments. In several 
places, for example, the churches have established schools 


when public facilities have been closed. History has al- 
ready recorded the fact that, when the secular culture 
failed to preserve segregation, the churches took up the 
fight and held on for yet a little while. Why did we do it? 
We did it for the sake of good, for the advancement of 
knowledge, for the increase of wisdom, for the sake of 
our children. No one will question these motives. It 
cannot be denied that we have a responsibility to our 
children. Who would be prepared to argue that Christians 
ought to suffer their children, black or white, to grow up 
in ignorance? 

These are rational values. They appeal to the common 
sense of ordinary men and women. But what is their real 
validity within the fellowship of believers? In the final 
analysis, when our most rational arguments and common 
sense appeals fail to fill the yawning void of unfaith, when 
we stand nakedly under the command of God, we know 
that these values we have worshiped are creatures of the 
false gods of race and culture. 

A young white Christian mother once said to me in 
Little Rock that she could never again send her child to 
one of the schools established to evade the law as long as 
they accept her child but refuse the child of another 
mother because of some degree of skin pigmentation. She 
could not permit herself this privilege, she said, and 
maintain her integrity as a member of a church which in 
its public posture stood for equality and brotherhood. 
She reported with some emotion how it felt deliberately 
to sacrifice her son when by one stroke of the pen she 
could save him. She was in good company. 

"Take your son, your only son Isaac, . . . and go to 
the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offer- 
ing upon one of the mountains of which I shall tell you. 
. . . And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering 
and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took in his hand the 
fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. 


. . . Then Abraham put forth his hand, and took the 
knife to slay his son." (Gen. 22:2, 6, 10.) 

Compared with this radical faithfulness, how puny and 
petty our rationalizations about our property values, our 
children's future, our neighborhood pride, must be to the 
Creator. We cannot obey the teachings of our church 
and our nation, we say, because it will injure our little 
children! Whether this prediction of the tragedy that will 
befall our children is true or untrue is not yet clear. It is 
true, by the mind and spirit of Christ, that this is not the 
first question we must answer. Is it even worthy of debate? 
This Little Rock mother (she and others like her have 
been the salvation of that city) was right. It was that 
kind of obedience that made the faith of Abraham a great 
religion and his righteousness imputed to the New Israel 
of Christ. 

"He who loves son or daughter more than me is not 
worthy of me" (Matt. 10:37), said a man whom most 
racists, North and South, still call Lord. This is the ques- 
tion before the church in America: Do we believe in the 
God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God and Father of 
our Lord Jesus Christ, or do we worship at the shrine of 
state sovereignty, restricted neighborhoods, white schools, 
and racial supremacy? Today it is white supremacy; there 
is a good chance that tomorrow it will be black supremacy. 
Either is contrary to the will and purpose of God, and no 
amount of rationalization will be able to obscure that 

Chapter IV 

The Humanistic Detour 


significant role in the life of the church. He is constantly 
forcing those who consider themselves the children of 
light to defend and define the Christian message. If when 
we begin to define and defend what we think is the 
Christian message, we discover that it is little more than 
a sentimental veil of humanism, it is because we have not 
met the segregationist on the field upon which the Chris- 
tion must fight. When we speak, it is most often of law 
and order, of human dignity, of man's rights, of democ- 
racy, of constitution, and, at best, of the principle of the 
brotherhood of man and the fatherhood of God. More and 
more this has become the most unfavorable terrain for 
battle. The humanist has done a great service to man- 
kind by supporting the egalitarian line. But for the Chris- 
tian church to assume this role is to court failure. We fail 
for two reasons. First, we cannot do well what the secular 
and humanist organizations can do. Our churches can 
become adjuncts to human relations councils and civil 
rights organizations, but this is to sell what we have much 
too short. For what we have to say is far more radical, far 
more demanding, far more inclusive of all of society than 
anything the humanistically oriented groups have said. 
If race is not a valid concept in Christian doctrine, there 



is no room to debate such irrelevancies as who sits where 
on a bus, who lives in which neighborhood, and who 
marries whom on the basis of propriety, law and order, 
and egalitarian philosophy. 

As we have championed the humanistic arguments, 
we have also tended to become more and more humani- 
tarian in our action programing. When a church organi- 
zation needs personnel in the field of human relations it 
is inclined to look for effective, skilled social reformers 
or human engineers, but rarely preachers and prophets. 
There is a considerable difference. Doubtless the church 
historically has made use of both, and will continue to 
do so; but in our effort to find renewal for the church in 
the area of race relations, it is necessary to say more 
than that all men are brothers and ought to act brotherly. 
For we know that all men are not going to act like 
brothers and that the Christian faith has a great deal to 
say beyond that point. Moreover, our critics raise valid 
questions as to whether or not the church has any concern 
or right to be concerned with the desegregation of society 
so long as its own record is so dismal. If all church in- 
stitutions, colleges and universities, hospitals, medical 
schools, secondary and primary schools, camps, assembly 
grounds, congregations, homes for aged and orphanages 
were open to all, there would not be very much remaining 
for society to do. 

It is often said that we have this concern for justice 
as citizens of our nation; that as Christian citizens we 
must exercise this responsibility within structures of law 
and order which also have their influence upon the 
church. There is truth here. Action in society has often 
influenced the pattern of church life. But are we not also, 
and foremost, citizens of the Kingdom of God? What 
right have I to indict a real estate agent for restricting 
residential developments when my own church will not 
admit anyone other than white Protestants to its home for 


the retired? The admonition, "Physician, heal yourself" 
(Luke 4:23), is appropriate. To ignore it or even to offer 
rebuttal to what it implies is to add to our already abun- 
dant hypocrisy. 

The second and more important reason we fail is that 
the Christian message on race does not depend upon egali- 
tarian premises and arguments. Ours is not a message of 
law and order, of man's rights, of constitutions. The 
Christian view of race is not limited to the principle of 
the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. When 
we tell the segregationist that the gospel is to obey the law 
and accept the Supreme Court decision, he can see no 
gospel, no "good news" here. This, for him, is only bad 
news, and he is not wrong to ridicule the church and tell 
it to mind its own business. 

Of course, the segregationist is wrong if he means that 
the church should steer clear of controversy, but he is 
right when he says that purely humanistic values are not 
our basic concern. He is likewise right when he insists 
that the gospel is not a proclamation of what we ought 
to do. 

But if he is told, as he must be told, that the Christian 
gospel was and is a message of grace and redemption, then 
it is an entirely different matter. Tell the segregationist 
that by this grace God became flesh — flesh meaning "like 
one of us." Tell him God was in this flesh. Tell him the 
Christian message on race relations and all human rela- 
tions: God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. 
God was in Christ reconciling his children to one another 
and thus to himself. God was in Christ breaking down the 
walls of hostility that separate man from man and all 
men from God. God, furthermore, was in Christ loving 
him — the segregationist himself; loving him, accepting 
him, forgiving him, even if he cannot yet love and accept 
and forgive his brother. This is what we have to say to 
the segregationist, whether he belongs to a Black Nation- 


alist movement in Harlem, a White Property Owners' 
Association in Chicago, or a Citizens' Council in Birming- 
ham. If he hears this and accepts it, there is more likeli- 
hood of achieving an integrated church in an integrated 
society than if we simply tell him that he should go home 
and be good, or that he ought to obey the law. 

Those who take the position that there is no specific 
program of Christian race relations — that we must take 
our cue from economics, politics, and sociology — are mis- 
taken. That is simply to say that there is no Christian 
message. It is well that the racist forces us to hear that 
message anew, and in the hearing will be our true renewal. 
The Christian message on race is nothing more nor less 
than the Christian message. It has to do with grace, not 
law, not order. That something has been done for us, 
something free, something with which we had nothing to 
do, something undeserved and unearned. It is the mercy 
and grace of God which has given us newness of life. In 
this "new creation" (II Cor. 5:17), we are neither 
Caucasian, African, Asian, male nor female, bond nor 
free. We are a third race. All our human engineering is 
vain if we miss the unambiguous point that, in the mes- 
sage of grace, race is irrelevant. The only relevant point 
has to do with redemption, not race, class, or caste. This 
is not an invitation to complacency by the preacher. This 
is no license to mumble, "God was in Christ, let us pray." 
This is not pious quietism. The relevance of this grace, 
this creative act of God, must ever be spelled out and 
applied over and over again in the rough and tumble of 
daily life. 

Of course, we are reminded that this message of grace 
has been preached for two thousand years and that little 
has changed. Preaching just does not seem to achieve for 
us the goal of an inclusive church and society. The world 
goes merrily on its segregated way, and churches go on 
being exclusive. Businessmen from our ranks go on dis- 


criminating in hiring, in placement, and in promotions. 
Inevitably we feel that we must devise gimmicks, develop 
techniques. We are overwhelmed by the drive to be 
effective. It is at this point that we call upon the social 
scientists, the human engineers, the race relations special- 
ists. We adopt uncritically the sophisticated methods of 
our secular colleagues. If we tell the cultured despisers 
among them that "God was in Christ" (II Cor. 5: 19), so 
that "you are all one" (Gal. 3:28), they are apt to wink 
slyly and chuckle. "A bunch of squares." Unrealistic, 
Utopian. And so we compete with each other in the 
"do it yourself" market of the latest methods, techniques, 
and gimmicks. What we seem to have difficulty remem- 
bering is that we are a bunch of squares — we Christians. 

The message we have is not the "latest word" or the 
most intellectually respectable; it is the same scandal, the 
same stumbling block it has always been. It does not reject 
method or spurn success, but it does not depend upon 
either for its ultimate validity. Our task is not to be suc- 
cessful — as if success proved validity. Our task is to pro- 
claim the gospel. Proclamation means more than verbaliz- 
ing from the pulpit, to be sure, and yet we can find no 
substitute for the sacrament of the Word. The world may 
not hear us. It never really has. But the message has not 
lost its power, and when it seems not to be heard, not 
to be effective, that is the time to proclaim it with greater 

Crash programs and grand strategies may make us more 
acceptable to the public, the press, and the secular agen- 
cies in the field of race relations; but our "crash program" 
was initiated and has been accomplished; our "grand 
strategy" was designed and fulfilled centuries ago. And 
indeed not in a court of law, not within a political docu- 
ment, but in a tragic scene of bloody sweat and agonizing 
death on a scarred hillside outside the city of Jerusalem. 
If the world cannot see the error and folly of racism, if 


it cannot see that racial consciousness and prejudice is in 
conflict with the program and strategy of redemption, if it 
does not repent of the dreadful sin of racial exclusiveness 
as a result of our practice and proclamation of the gospel, 
then God has judged us and we are his impotent people. 
But, if as his servants we will not preach the gospel and 
will not demonstrate in our own ranks the oneness of all 
men as creatures of God, we will have sat in judgment 
upon God, and there will be nothing but frustration and 
failure for such a church. When that day comes, and God 
forbid that it has already arrived, we will have long since 
ceased to be the people of God. 

The oneness of all men to which we are alluding does 
not have to do with man. It is possible that we are in- 
effective in race relations because we begin at the wrong 
place — with both the wrong subject and the wrong object. 
Churches frequently begin their Christian social concern 
programing by pointing out the suffering and deprivation 
of the minority group — photographs of undernourished 
children without shoes, standing outside of tar-paper 
shacks or in slum ghettos, their brown faces reflecting 
the confusion and sadness of heart of those who have too 
soon come to understand that the world holds for them 
few of its privileges. Anyone who cannot empathize with 
these victims of a ruthless and selfish society is far gone. 
Yet is there anything peculiarly Christian about such 
empathy? Does this express the authentic response of the 

As one who has spent the last five years trying to minis- 
ter in the numerous racial crises of the South, I know 
how easy it is to be motivated by feelings of pity and 
sympathy. Watching a mother stumble feebly along be- 
hind the casket of her son, murdered by a mob; going 
with a pastor into what is left of his church after a sack 
of dynamite has been thrown into it in the dark of 
Christmas Eve; seeing the bewilderment and pain of 


children whose presents, carefully concealed by Santa, 
are now broken and scattered throughout the debris of the 
manse; seeing a mother struck with a bottle as she takes 
her little girl to school; watching a pastor kicked and spat 
upon as he walks holding the trusting little hand of a 
six-year-old parishioner who is not yet old enough to be 
told that the screaming, unruly mob is there because she 
is going inside, that seven hundred grown men and 
women are terrified and frightened of her, one little six- 
year-old child — these are scenes which tear out the 
heart. Christian concern to correct such injustices as 
these is not just effusive sentimentality. 

But the reactions that such scenes stir within us are not 
necessarily Christian reactions. At any rate this is not 
where we begin. To do so is surely to confuse subject 
and object; to be falsely oriented for Christian action. 
This is the starting point of the humanist. Certainly we 
must admit that from this point he has borne a most 
creditable witness. But the concern of the Christian is 
more basic. It is at least a different concern. 

The Christian must first of all be concerned with souls. 
He will leap to the side of those who are being harmed, 
but his anguish at the suffering of the victims of racism 
will not blind him to the dangers facing the souls of the 
oppressors. The suffering of the minority group does not 
separate it from God, but the sin of the majority group 
does separate it from God. Thus, the soul of the dispos- 
sessor must concern us as much as the suffering of the 
dispossessed, and when this is not the case, our concern 
and action is something less than Christian concern and 
action. Even in terms of strategy, one-sided emphasis on 
the suffering is not very effective. For the suffering of 
the minority group does not greatly impress the dispos- 
sessor. He has grown callous to it and does not really 
see, much less is he shamed, by the tar-paper shack, the 
bare feet, the exclusion from jobs, the residential restric- 


tions. For him, it has always been this way. These are 
realities of the normal white world in which he lives. He 
is surprised and angered that anyone would suppose that 
they should be otherwise. Let me illustrate. 

In Fayette County, Tennessee, Negro farmers have 
been evicted from the land because they dared register to 
vote. A blacklist was circulated throughout the county 
through a long cold winter, with the naked ground for a 
floor. One man was shot with a high-powered rifle while 
asleep in his tent. His wife and children fled in terror into 
the darkness of a December night. Crop loans were denied 
tenant farmers even when a Federal court enjoined the 
owners from turning them off the land. A baby was born 
in one of the shabby, mud-splattered tents. An elderly 
woman had pneumonia. Local doctors reportedly denied 
medical aid to any Negro person who had registered to 
vote. A blacklist was circulated throughout the country 
with names of those who had registered, as a convenience 
for merchants who agreed to refuse to sell them groceries 
and supplies. 

These conditions stimulated a rash of material aid 
from denominational groups throughout the country. 
One church agency sent volunteers to put floors in the 
tents. Others provided money for relief. Another pur- 
chased a four-hundred acre farm and relocated several 
families from the tents. This was action that should have 
been taken, and it was taken with the purest motivation. 
No one could deny the responsibility of the churches to 
provide assistance to people without clothing, shelter, 
and food. Yet we failed to minister to the majority group, 
the dispossessors. There is some question, therefore, 
whether the whole gospel of redemption was heard and 
heeded by the people of Fayette County. 

This pattern is repeated in virtually every case. And 
consequently the segregationist has been able to see a 
major weakness in our social action. He has seen our 


marked similarity to the purely secular and humanistic 
groups. He has seen that we have generally made the 
deprived the subject and him the object. In terms of sim- 
ple strategy — a word that requires reinterpretation in the 
Christian vocabulary — the dispossessors might well have 
been more influenced, and the injustices corrected more 
quickly, if they had been the subject of church concern; 
if, at the same time, there had been a ministry to them. 
If the segregationist had been told that what was hap- 
pening to the suffering and the disinherited was not as 
dangerous as what was happening to him, he might have 
listened. If he had been warned that the judgment of 
God was upon him, not upon the victims, that he was 
separated from God because of his deeds, such a witness 
would, at least, have had strategic significance in terms 
of the church's objectives. 

None of this is to deny the obligation of the Christian 
to relieve the suffering of the oppressed. It is rather to 
say that when this is all we do, we are stopping short of 
the Christian imperative. Jesus showed concern and pain 
when he saw people suffer, and he relieved them. But in 
a moment of great emotion, he looked out over his own 
people and cried: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the 
prophets, and stoning those who are sent to you! How 
often would I have gathered your children together as a 
hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would 
not!" (Matt. 23:37). Here was real tragedy. This was not 
merely sympathy for the suffering of the prophets. This 
was a cry of despair over the alienation and sin of the 
people. To be sure, their hardness of heart, their stub- 
bornness, their refusal to recognize truth, resulted in 
human misery, but this was not primary. The suffering 
was merely a symptom of a functional and basic sickness. 
And it was for this that he went to his death. 

If there is something missing in most denominational 
approaches to the problem of race in America today, it is 


that which the secularist rightly espies as our weakness — 
feeling, emotion, a maudlin sense of tragedy. Christian 
compassion is not the cheap sentimentality of the junior 
choir performing "I'd Rather Have Jesus," but the white- 
hot emotion and indignation of the prophets, the piercing 
experience of the pathos and stark tragedy of man's con- 
dition, the brokenheartedness of the truly penitent, the 
groaning of man under his burden of guilt. A woman 
once explained to me how she had been indifferent about 
the problem of race in her city until she became a Chris- 
tian. (And the term "became a Christian" had special 
meaning for this person who had been "born and reared" 
in the church.) When I asked her how she behaved 
differently after becoming a Christian, what difference 
it had made in her behavior toward other races and 
groups, her response was instant. "Only one differ- 
ence," she replied. "One difference. Now my heart is 

Religion still involves feeling, and of God it can still 
be said: "The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken 
spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not 
despise" (Ps. 51:17). Too much of our programing in 
the field of race relations has been of the coldly objective, 
human engineering variety which precludes a broken 
heart. It is a bringing of the Thanksgiving baskets, the 
counting of noses for the poor children's Christmas party; 
the coins thrown into the special collection; programs 
of manipulation; designs for maneuvering, handling peo- 
ple into the Kingdom. We talk much about reconciliation. 
But too often we understand by the word something that 
can be accomplished by getting people together in buzz 
groups or by some other clever technique of group dy- 
namics. There can be no questioning the value of provid- 
ing opportunities for people to communicate. But com- 
munication is no substitute for reconciliation, and there 
can be no reconciliation without repentance. Nor can 


there ie. renewal of the church without repentance. And 
repentance comes with suffering, with a broken spirit and 
a contrite heart. No other possibility is available for the 
Christian. None of the steps can be skipped. It is a 
broken heart-repentance-forgiveness-reconciliation-renewal 
sequence that expresses the order of salvation. 

In moving toward a starting point in Christian race 
relations, we should not forget that grace, redemption, and 
judgment are words the segregationists will hear. He may 
not understand them in the finest orthodox sense, but the 
sound of them is not unfamiliar even out of the "Bible 
belt." For many people there is not yet in these terms the 
emotional block there may be for other words. If, for in- 
stance, a Southern segregationist is told that it is the 
United States Constitution that is supreme and he is just 
beginning to regard seriously his own state constitution of 
1890, he may find it difficult to understand why a con- 
stitution with which he feels he had nothing to do 
should be more sacred than one much closer to home. 
If he is told that the gospel is a message of law and order, 
he is apt to ask, whose law and what order? Or if he is 
told that the Christian view on race is the universal prin- 
ciple of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of 
man, he can make a rather convincing case to the contrary 
by a quick recitation of Scripture. "But to all who received 
him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become 
children of God." (John 1:12.) But if he is told that the 
acute problem of race has to do with the judgment of 
God upon his people, that it is a symptom of man's 
estrangement from God and a symbol of the brokenness 
of the body of Christ; if he is told that we are liars when 
we say we are in the light but hate our brothers (I John 
2:9); if he is warned that it is the last hour (I John 
2:18 ff.) for the Christian and for the church, this is 
language he may be able to understand. This is the pro- 
found and prophetic Word of the church which is the 


bearer of the judgment of God that pins a man's back 
to the wall. 

It is true that we have outgrown the scorched flesh 
policy of Jonathan Edwards' evangelism, but few Ameri- 
cans are so secularized as to have no sense of the meaning 
of the judgment of God upon his people. Whatever that 
meaning may be in New York, or Atlanta, or Biloxi, we 
should remember (and this is especially true in the 
South) that the racist is seldom an atheist. Usually, in so 
far as he is able, he is a godly man. The message of 
Christianity still suggests to him that "in Christ," he can 
overcome his culture and his glands — in short, his prej- 
udice. He may not have found this to be true, but he still 
has an uneasy feeling that it may be true nevertheless. 

The redemptive purpose of Jesus Christ and the judg- 
ment of God upon his people are more than distantly 
related to race relations. They are at the very heart and 
core of the solution. Though this is not quite the starting 
point, it is close. Moreover, this is not a message for the 
majority group alone. The disease exists just as acutely in 
the minority group as it does in the majority. It is no 
startling discovery to say that original sin is not peculiar 
to white people. And it would sound defensive and com- 
monplace to say it, if those of us active in the broad field 
of race relations did not so often realize that we were 
bringing one message to the prejudiced and another to the 
victims of prejudice. The message is not divided. There 
may be differences of degree and manifestation, but the 
sins are the same in both groups. About this we will say 
more in a later chapter. At the moment it is sufficient to 
point out that while the church did not go to the majority 
group in Fayette County, Tennessee, with the Christian 
message of judgment and redemption, neither was this its 
ministry to the minority group. 

Despite the fact of infighting within the protest move- 
ment, the jockeying for power and position, the broken- 


ness here, the disharmony there, the shattered fellowship 
within the Negro group in some ways more serious than 
the relationship between the two races, the churches had 
nothing to say. Should we not have spoken to the sharp 
division within the Negro groups, to the bitterness of 
their lawsuits, to their litigation tying up funds and re- 
lief supplies while people were hungry, to the enjoining 
of one another from administering relief and claiming 
mail, to the factionalism which found each group break- 
ing off and announcing to the public that it alone was 
legitimate and true guardian of the welfare of the people? 
Most of our religious agencies were aware of this situa- 
tion but, for the most part, the position was taken that 
we could not involve ourselves in the internal affairs of 
the movement, but would relieve the suffering of the in- 
nocent as best we could. Certainly the suffering had to 
be relieved, but there were no innocent. All were guilty, 
all were sinners and stood in desperate need of the mes- 
sage of judgment and redemption. Somehow, the churches 
have not yet learned to be critical of the new and drama- 
tic protest movements. But they too must hear the gospel 
of the Lord who burns and heals. Whenever the church 
has been exclusively concerned with symptoms, with ob- 
vious, surface problems, choosing wrong subjects and 
wrong objects, it has brought forth fallacious answers. 
We have asked inappropriate questions and have moved 
into Christian social action from the wrong point of de- 
parture and with a superficial understanding of the depth 
of man's involvement in sin. 

Chapter V 

The Christian Concern and Starting Point 


the reasons for the church's failure in race relations. Part 
of the answer has already been hinted — the preoccupa- 
tion with law and order, the emphasis on humanistic 
arguments for desegregation, and the often uncritical 
reliance on sociological approaches. But an important 
question remains : Why has the church chosen this path? 
At least a partial explanation lies in the organizational 
structure of American Protestantism. Here sociological 
analysis can be useful without being permitted to define 
the form the church should take in its mission. 

From the point of view of social effectiveness, Prot- 
estantism has had difficulty making a witness in the crisis 
of American race relations, partly because it has had no 
widely recognized spokesmen, no clearly defined lines of 
authority for policy and action, and no strong lay support. 
Generally speaking, when the Roman Catholic Church 
has been attacked, all three of these factors have been 
used to support the church and sustain its decisions. Its 
laity consistently rally to its defense. Societies and action 
groups are organized to engage in energetic campaigns of 
propaganda and moral support. Authoritative spokesmen 
make declarations of policy, and lines of implementation 
are cleared and effectively utilized. 



When the positions of the Protestant churches or of 
the individual clergymen are attacked, on the other 
hand, frequently it is our own laymen who gather the 
faggots. An example is seen in the fact that in several 
states of the Southeast, laymen of Protestant denomina- 
tions have organized to oppose actively the official posi- 
tion of their churches on race relations. They have or- 
ganized within the churches themselves and have used 
church machinery to launch attacks against those very 

Such groups as the Methodist Laymen's League of 
Alabama have done much to prevent the local parishes 
from putting into action — or even discussing — the posi- 
tion of the national church. They have been successful 
in eliminating from the conference ministers whom they 
deem "undesirable," and they exert considerable influence 
from the local congregation to the General Conference. 
In other regions of the country, laymen join such organi- 
zations as the John Birch Society and actively participate 
in propaganda diametrically opposed to that for which 
their churches stand. 

I am not pleading here for a monolithic ecclesiastical 
structure, nor for an infallible clergy. My point is simply 
that American pulpits do not have the authority requisite 
for leadership in social change. Our elected officials and 
professional staffs charged with the social witness of the 
denominations do not possess sufficient authority to repre- 
sent the church in such a way as to help it become an 
effective influence for change in society. I am also saying 
that pulpits must be free or there is no hope for the 
churches in a crisis as filled with emotional intensity as 
the race issue. Unless the Word of God is heard, how will 
it be able to combat the pressures of culture upon the 
thinking of the people? "Woe to me if I do not preach the 
gospel! (I Cor. 9:16.) But woe to a people who will not 
tolerate the preaching of the gospel in their own sanctu- 


aries. And woe to the church that will not permit its 
officials to implement its policies. 

Two permanent elements constitute the means of grace 
in Protestantism. The first of these is the preaching of the 
Word; the second is the sacrament of Holy Communion. 
Both declare the gospel — equally and indispensably. It is 
a curious fact that, despite the gag that has been ap- 
plied against preaching, it has been only rarely that a 
clergyman has been physically barred from God's altar 
to administer the holy mysteries. Yet this sacred serv- 
ice speaks more eloquently of the unity of all God's peo- 
ple, of the redemptive purpose and message of Jesus 
Christ, and of the sin of segregation, than do all the 
words that a pastor may be forbidden to speak during a 
long tenure. 

It would be a mistake, however, to push too far the 
argument that the blame for the church's inadequacy lies 
principally in its organizational structure. If the lack of 
a strong hierarchy were the sole or even the chief reason 
for the weakness of Protestantism in race relations, we 
should have expected a much better record from the 
Roman Catholics, for that communion is not burdened 
with such organizational deficiencies. 

In fact, however, this has not been the case. Catholi- 
cism's record in race relations, like Protestantism's, has 
been spotty — good in some places, poor in others. On the 
whole there is probably little to choose between the two. 
Two years after the desegregation of public schools in 
New Orleans, for example, the city's parochial schools 
are just beginning to desegregate, despite promises to the 
contrary from the Archbishop several years ago. In the 
fall of 1961, when the Atlanta public schools were de- 
segregated with great appreciation in Washington and 
nationwide attention, the color bar remained in full force 
at the parochial schools. 

In Nashville, on the other hand, the desegregation of 


the parochial schools preceded that of the public schools 
by two years. Yet in Memphis, a city in the same diocese 
with a far larger Catholic population than Nashville, 
the parochial schools are still segregated. The fact re- 
mains, however, that where Catholicism has been most 
effective in this struggle, its obvious advantage has been 
unity and organizational structure geared for action. But 
there must be another, more basic reason for the church's 
failure, and not only for the failure of the church, both 
Protestant and Catholic, but for failure of American so- 
ciety as a whole. 

In the last chapter we saw that when Christians choose 
the dispossessed minority as their only subject of concern 
they will usually meet with failure. There the emphasis 
was that as Christians we have a clear and unmistakable 
responsibility and mandate to lighten the burden of our 
brothers whoever they are and wherever we find them. 
We cannot escape our obligation to aid and console the 
brokenhearted, whenever God places them in our path. 
But the frustration, the brokenheartedness, the suffering, 
the dispossession are all symptoms of something more 
basic. More important than relieving the symptoms, we 
have to treat the malady itself. As it is so often said, one 
does not have a cold because he sneezes but sneezes be- 
cause he has a cold. Similarly we can say of the society 
in which we live that it is not sinful because it segregates; 
rather it segregates because it is sinful. Segregation and 
discrimination is the sneeze, the symptom of the condi- 
tion of a sick and sinful society. 

And what is the sin? To force fellow citizens, because 
of the color of their skins or any other reason, to live in 
ghettos which breed hostility, bitterness, and crime is 
wrong. But this is symptomatic. To refuse to employ 
people on the basis of race can hardly be justified by any 
Christian standard, but this is not the real threat to Chris- 
tian doctrine. To threaten, taunt, and jeer mothers who 


take their children to the schools to which they have 
been assigned by law is to demonstrate less than Christian 
love, and yet the segregationist can debate you to a stand- 
off if you make this your starting point. These are all 
humanitarian and egalitarian concerns that certainly lie 
within the province of Christian witness but which, taken 
alone, are not enough. The segregationist who is honest 
and who wants to remain loyal to the church has very 
clearly seen this point and has taken clever advantage of 
its weakness. 

There is, however, something that neither the segrega- 
tionist nor the integrationist have seen. In a real sense 
man is not the subject, the point of reference for his own 
well-being and happiness upon the earth. Neither the 
racist nor the person upon whom he casts indignity, the 
disinherited, Negro or white, the builder of houses or 
the rejected from houses, the employer or the one deprived 
of employment, the passer of legislation or the victim of 
repressive legislation, the murderer or the murdered — 
none of these is the true referent, the true subject. The 
only point of reference is God. 

The sin, therefore, is that the whole issue of race is an 
effort to deny the sovereignty of God, to negate the abso- 
lute supremacy of God. Once a man has truly seen this 
truth he can no longer be a racist, nor can he any longer 
grovel in the agonies of self-pity. From that point on, the 
racist logic and desire for self- justification terrify him. 
As for the racist, he is now afraid to call any man un- 
clean, to discriminate against any man, to stand in judg- 
ment over any group or individual or to set himself above 
any of God's human creatures. From the moment either 
the segregationist or the integrationist really accepts the 
a bsolu te sovereignty of God, he is forever thereafter ter- 
rified to usurp that authority or claim any part of it for 
himself. And that is precisely what one does when he 
determines his pattern of behavior by classifications of 


race and class or thinks that God is obliged to conform 
reality to his notion of what ought to be. 

Now, of course, many people who hold the segrega- 
tionist position claim also to accept the doctrine of the 
sovereignty of God. Most of those within the church have 
certainly been exposed to it. It has been dinned into the 
church and Christian society for two thousand years 
through the theologians from Paul to Augustine, Calvin, 
Barth, Niebuhr, and others. It is obvious, however, that 
the segregationists have not understood, for if they had, 
they would acknowledge that God, being truly supreme, 
could create as he saw fit, and that he did not create a 
hierarchy of man. The segregationist who uses Scripture 
to buttress segregation convicts himself at this very point. 
In not one of the passages he uses is there any record of 
the alteration of creation subsequent to the time God 
made man in his image. God did not intervene to alter 
creation until the appearance of the new creation in Jesus 
Christ and in the Kingdom of Christ categories and clas- 
sification by color and race do not exist. It is worth noting 
that over most of the generations of Christians this truth 
was clearly perceived. Racism, as we know it today, is a 
modern development. C. Vann Woodward traces the de- 
velopment of Jim Crow legislation in his book The 
Strange Career of Jim Crow to show that restrictive stat- 
utes that are taken for granted today would have been 
considered completely unwarranted in the United States 
before 1900. Racism as a doctrine and a way of life was 
little known before the rise of the modern nation-state on 
the continent of Europe. In this country, the historical 
and sociological developments that helped make Jim Crow 
possible were preceded by a theological development that 
really evolved in the matrix of the whole history of Chris- 
tianity in America. 

The theological aspect of racism has its roots in the 
shift from incarnation to deification in Christian belief — 


the shift in emphasis from God become man to man be- 
come God. F. O. Matthiessen has pointed out this inver- 
sion in his treatment of the American renaissance when 
he writes: "Anyone concerned with orthodoxy holds that 
the spiritual decadence of the nineteenth century can be 
measured according to the alteration in the object of its 
belief from God-Man to Man-God" (American Renais- 
sance, Oxford University Press, 1941, p. 446). Matthies- 
sen understands this as a shift from belief in the salva- 
tion of man through the mercy and grace of a sovereign 
God, to belief in the potential divinity in every man. In 
no country was this theological development more rapid 
than in Protestant, democratic America. The preaching of 
the early church concerned a God who had become man, 
a Christ whose birth was unique and whose nature was 
divine; who was crucified and who died back into eternal 
life. Theological liberalism particularly second-generation 
liberalism, within Protestantism interpreted Jesus as a 
rebel prophet who was murdered by a society that was 
unable to abide the horror of truth. Accordingly, man 
became God. Thus God was no longer incarnate in the 
person of Christ. He did not become man by being 
"in Christ"; rather, the man Jesus became God. (Ibid.^ 
In this formulation Christ did not descend from the 
right hand of God to be born of a virgin, to suffer 
under Pontius Pilate, to be crucified for us men and for 
our salvation. In fact, this position does not really admit 
of the incarnation. Jesus was thrust by man to the right 
hand of God as a reward for the life he had lived and 
the deeds he had performed. This was, in short, deifica- 

It is evident that the meaning of the crucifixion and 
death of Christ is completely changed by this theology. 
One of its most serious consequences is the rejection of 
the doctrine of the absolute sovereignty of God, and it is 
precisely this that has had far-reaching implications in 


the whole field of Christian social relations. It is not diffi- 
cult to see why this is so. The deification of Jesus was the 
celebration of man's triumph, whereas God "in Christ" 
(incarnation) had to do only with the sovereignty of God. 
It has to do with what God had done by his sovereign 
power. Protestant, democratic America could move easily 
from this man-centered religion to the belief that nothing 
was more important than the individual. It would be ex- 
pected, therefore, that Protestant leaders, under this theo- 
logical influence and bound by the spell of the American 
creed of individual rights, would tackle the problem of 
racial prejudice from this vantage point. With the dimi- 
nution of the idea that man might find completion in 
something greater than himself, what could follow more 
naturally than for Protestantism to make man the subject 
of racial and social justice? With man rather than God as 
the subject, the motivation for human brotherhood was 
lodged firmly in humanitarianism and man's need. What 
now impels the seeker for justice? Often it is that drive, 
that urge to "go about doing good" in order that the spark 
of divinity in every man might shine forth. 

With God as sovereign (subject), the basis for human 
brotherhood is, as Matthiessen suggested, "in men's com- 
mon aspiration and fallibility, in their humility before 
God" (ibid., see p. 72). When man is the subject of so- 
cial action and when humanitarianism is its motivation, 
we are all too likely to badger people into loving each 
other, to tell them that men are good and worthy and, 
accordingly, there should be no discrimination among 
them. The segregationist counters with facts and figures 
about some men, the behavior of whom deserves, by our 
standards of goodness and worthiness, only a second-class 
citizenship. It is not sufficient to question his facts. Al- 
though he may not, for the most part, take into account 
basic causes for the behavior he describes, his facts are 
often quite accurate. But our argument does not rest upon 


f actuality. If God is sovereign, if the basis of our brother- 
hood is in our common frailty and humility before the 
One who "has made everything for its purpose, even the 
wicked for the day of trouble" (Prov. 16:4), then 
the statistical data of the segregationist, accurate or not, 
are of no account. They must be rejected as the basis of 
Christian decision. 

The second generation of theological liberalism in the 
social gospel movement probably did more to impede 
progress in race relations in America by keeping man at 
the center of thought and action than did even funda- 
mentalism, which, though often a caricature of orthodoxy, 
contained more incarnation and less deification than liber- 
alism. This is not to "beat a dead horse to death." A dis- 
cussion of the social gospel movement is appropriate at 
this point in history only because the ethics of that move- 
ment persist (where race relations is concerned) even 
though the ghost of its theology has for the most part dis- 
appeared. How familiar at Christian race relations confer- 
ences are words of law and order, constitutional process, 
democracy, human dignity, and the rights of man! And 
how strange and out of place seems talk of "God in Christ," 
of incarnation, and of the mystical body when applied to 
social problems! And the person who is known for his 
Biblical preaching, who takes seriously the creeds and has 
a reputation for being "a good churchman," is not ex- 
pected to involve himself in the social crises of his day, 
and if he does, his "churchmanship" becomes just a bit 

Racist logic is primarily concerned with what man 
thinks about man. Sometimes, either as a technique to 
influence those who must have God on their side, or as a 
result of his own misguided piety, his doctrine speaks of 
that which man, usually himself thinks about God. The 
Biblical writers, on the other hand, as Karl Barth has so 
often pointed out, were concerned with what God thinks 


about man. Their account makes God the subject and 
man the object. Their point of reference was God. When 
one is able and willing to confess that sovereignty belongs 
to God alone he is no longer able to be at ease in the camp 
of the racist. He ceases to be excessively preoccupied with 
man or with any particular man or group of men. 

"It is he who sits above the circle of the earth. . . . who 
brings princes to nought, and makes the rulers of the 
earth as nothing. ... He blows upon them, and they 
wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble." 
(Isa. 40:22—24.) Isaiah's words now define the true cen- 
ter of human thought. 

The Christian can now see that all his stereotypes 
about groups, even when true, have no real significance, 
for, again with Isaiah, he perceives that the inhabitants 
of the earth are as grasshoppers, and the folly of a quar- 
rel between the Acridiidae family and the Locustidae 
family. The fact of having a Negro neighbor or shop 
foreman fades in importance when God becomes the 
center of thought and life and one acknowledges his abso- 
lute rule, authority, and government. There is no excep- 
tion from this theological principle. The sovereignty of 
God means simply: "Know therefore this day, and lay it 
to your heart, that the Lord is God in heaven above and 
on the earth beneath; there is no other. . . . See now that I, 
even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I 
make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that 
can deliver out of my hand" (Deut. 4:39; 32:39). 

This, then, is the sovereignty of God. It is the begin- 
ning and the end of Christian race relations. It is only by 
beginning with God that we get a true perspective for the 
understanding of man. It is precisely this understanding 
of the nature of man that comprises the content of Chris- 
tian race relations. Are some men different? Did God 
have intrinsic differences in mind when he created some 
men white and some colored? The priority of God's sov- 


ereignty is what Calvin is driving at when he explains 
that when we begin with ourselves rather than with God, 
we see ourselves in a more powerful, glamorous, and im- 
pressive light than we actually are. To see ourselves as we 
really are, we must begin with God. Otherwise the pic- 
ture is distorted and what is presented to us is the image 
of a creature who has the right to dispose of his fellow 
men as he sees fit. 

One cannot look God in the face without getting a 
painful exposure to man's frailty and finiteness. We can- 
not look at God without "the shock of cemeteries." And a 
casual glance at these ubiquitous abodes of those gone be- 
fore reminds us of the simple truth with which both the 
Bible and secular history are filled — that life is suffering 
and sorrow and the beginning of death; that we all come 
forth like a flower and are cut down; that we are all of a 
few days and full of trouble; that all flesh is grass and we 
are all here dying together. What man can face this truth 
and continue to see the relevance of human classifications 
of people into colors and races? What man can continue 
to prate such "Bible belt" absurdities as "God was the origi- 
nal segregationist." When we confess God as Creator and 
Sovereign who not only brought the world into being but 
continues to be its sole sustainer and judge, we see that 
no matter how high man may rise, no matter what legis- 
lation he may engineer, no matter how loudly he screams 
"nigger, jew, dago, kike," his final outcome will be that of 
the mighty kings of Judah, in the books of the Chronicles 
and the Kings — Jehoahaz, Joash, Jeroboam. Each died 
and slept with his fathers and another reigned in his stead 
until he too died and slept with his fathers and another 
took his vacant throne. To recognize God as Sovereign, 
Creator, Judge, and Ruler of the universe is to see how 
weak is the hand of men who must die and sleep with 
their fathers and go down into the great sepulcher of the 
earth together with "all sorts and conditions of men" only 


to be raised and judged by that one Sovereign who is 
Lord of all. 

So it is that the sin of the children of light has not 
been their failure to tell the world that "red and yellow, 
black or white, they are precious in his sight." That has 
been said sweetly and often enough. Our problem is that 
we have spoken too much of man's worth and dignity and 
not often enough of his insignificance in God's scheme of 
things. Sermons on race relations like to use the text from 
The Acts: "He made from one . . ." The favorite rejoin- 
der of the segregationist has been the rest of the verse: 
". . . having determined . . . the boundaries of their habi- 
tation" (Acts 17:26). Perhaps a more appropriate text 
for both would be from II Sam. 1:19: "How are the 
mighty fallen!" Here is a grim reminder for the potential 
self-righteousness of the integrationist and the vanity of 
the segregationist. "How are the mighty fallen!" 

Thus far we have said little of the Lordship of Jesus 
Christ, which is the way the Christian must ultimately 
speak of God's sovereignty in this "time between," this 
"era of the church." It would appear, however, that today 
when the comfortable life of Americans deludes them into 
thinking that they have already achieved redemption one 
must speak more forcefully of creation, of finitude, and 
of sin. The doctrine of the sovereignty of God needs to 
fall afresh upon the ears of this generation. The God who 
is Sovereign has made Jesus "both Lord and Christ" (Acts 
2:36). But before we can really understand what this 
means — before we can give up the illusions of the theol- 
ogy of everyman's deification, we must read again the Old 
Testament and stand under the judgment of Creation 
and Fall. 

This is the note that must now be reintroduced into 
Christian race relations. It is found in both the Old Cove- 
nant and the New. "Thou art the God, thou alone, of all 
the kingdoms of the earth; thou hast made heaven and 


earth." (II Kings 19:15.) "I am the Alpha and the 
Omega, says the Lord God, who is and who was and who 
is to come, the Almighty." (Rev. 1:8.) 

The Sovereign God who is our Lord Jesus Christ — he 
is the only subject, the sole referent of human relations 
and the social action of the church. What can be said of 
us, whatever our race or class, except that we and all our 
fortunes and destinies belong to him? And this is enough 
to know. 

Chapter VI 

Accomplishments and New Dangers 


the churches during the long, dark night of American 
racism has not been a pretty and optimistic one. We do 
not propose at this point to put it in a pastel frame. It is, 
however, only fair to point out that although the churches 
do not do the good they want, but the evil they do not 
want is what they do (see Rom. 7: 19), they are, never- 
theless, doing more that is of long-lasting significance in 
the field of race relations than any other institution of our 
society. The churches can still be a decisive influence in 
this struggle. 

Robert Hutchins is reported to have said of the Uni- 
versity of Chicago when he was its Chancellor: "It isn't 
a very good school. It's just the best there is." The record 
of the churches, as disappointing as it is, is not so bleak 
when it is compared with the record of secular groups. 

Before we can talk about what the church can do we 
must look briefly at some of our limitations and at some 
of the achievements of Protestant Christianity despite 
those limitations. Of course, the term "Protestant Chris- 
tianity" is so broad that anything claimed in its favor can 
be refuted with numerous exceptions. One might ask: 
"Which Protestants are you talking about? There are sixty 
million Protestants in this country." And if we could an- 



swer satisfactorily the question, "What are Protestants 
called to do?" we would have made a contribution which 
four hundred years of Protestant history has been unable 
to provide. For Protestantism has seldom been able to de- 
fine clearly its role in society on any critical social issue, 
and in any given social crisis it is usually divided into 
warring factions. 

The reasons for this have been suggested by various 
students of the relation of the Protestant churches to 
American culture. It has been pointed out that a major 
limitation the churches face is the manner in which Prot- 
estantism has divorced religious faith from institutional- 
ized authority. The result has been that Protestantism 
does not recognize leaders who are authorized to speak the 
mind and will of the group. For example, all the major 
denominations have passed strong resolutions regarding 
racial segregation. Even though these statements have 
been approved by some authoritative body, there is no 
clearly delineated line of authority for implementation, 
for seldom is any person invested with sufficient power to 
act with anything like the immediacy necessary to make 
the church's declared policy effective in a crisis situation. 

A second factor stressed by those in the field of the 
sociology of religion is that the excessive individualism of 
Protestantism gives every church member the right to 
interpret doctrine or Scripture as he sees fit. The conse- 
quence of such freedom is often conformity to values, 
prejudices, and attitudes acquired outside the church. 
Certainly there has been no dearth of positive statements 
by Protestant groups on the subject of race, but they are 
not taken seriously by legislatures and policy makers be- 
cause it is well known that these statements only reflect 
the thinking being done at the highest level. At the grass 
roots, attitudes are apt to reflect that prevailing regional 
or community sentiment. Thus such denominational 
statements never quite comprise a clear threat to any in- 


dividual or group of officials who retain power by election. 

The painful awareness of this weakness is evident in 
the various ministerial statements and resolutions that 
have come out of communities in racial tension. There is 
always the preface that these clergymen, the signers, are 
speaking as individuals and not representing anyone par- 
ticularly. This is not intended as a criticism of the indi- 
vidual minister who signs such statements. In a sense this 
is in his defense, for it is often to his peril that he signs 
antisegregation resolutions at all. But while the minister 
cannot speak for his constituency, other organizations 
with ideologies at variance with the Christian faith have 
developed, in a short time, clear channels of authority to 
speak convincingly to elected officials. Frequently these 
organizations speak for the same people for whom min- 
isters or other church leaders are unable to speak, and 
they speak for those who would strongly object if the 
church or their councils sought to enunciate policy. A 
good example is the White Citizens' Councils or the John 
Birch Society. Christians within these groups generally 
resist any effort of their churches to represent them but 
strangely enough do not seem to object to having a small 
and powerful clique speak for them as members of those 
bodies. It is safe to say that people generally do not resent 
being represented if they share the adopted position. One 
can only conclude that while the official positions taken 
by Protestant bodies in various social crises may reflect a 
summation of the Law and the prophets, they are not a 
summation of the wishes of the majority of Protestant 
church members! 

The point is that while Protestantism can and does 
plant seeds of revolution, it cannot see them through to 
fruition. To continue the struggle, its prophets and ac- 
tionists often must turn to other vehicles. While it is true, 
however, that Protestant churches are not providing a 
leadership in race relations commensurate with the ideals 


and principles of Protestantism, it is equally true that 
they have produced many of the persons who are provid- 
ing such leadership. Take a careful look at the reformers 
in the present crisis in race relations. Ask them where 
they got their start. Most of them will reply that it all 
began when they started to take seriously that which they 
had learned in religious training. We can be critical that 
Protestant polity has not provided the kind of organiza- 
tion necessary to influence social change, but we cannot 
ignore the fact that its doctrines and teachings, when 
taken seriously, have provided leaders for the groups that 
are organized for effective action. 

Clarence Jordon is a Baptist minister who was one of 
the founders of Koinonia Farm in South Georgia. He 
holds a degree in agriculture and a Ph.D. in Greek from a 
theological seminary. Jordon organized the interracial 
farm from the coercion of a Christian conscience. Koin- 
onia Farm has done much for Sumter County. It has in- 
troduced new agricultural techniques into the community 
and it has been a constant reminder to the world of the 
meaning of the word by which it is named. Because of his 
views and practices in race relations, Clarence Jordon 
was excluded from the Baptist church in which he held 
membership. We may be critical of that church for ex- 
cluding such a good man from its fellowship, but we 
ought not to forget that it was that same institution which 
produced the good man in the first place. Like an eagle 
teaching its young to fly but deserting them once they be- 
gin to exercise what they have learned, so Protestantism 
is often capable of inspiring its own to action but almost 
as often rejects them when action occurs, especially if 
such action is taken in the name of the church. It is noth- 
ing new for Protestants who apply their faith to social, 
economic, and political problems to be told to mind their 
altar fires and tea parties. This restrictive policy is partly 
a consequence of the Reformation polity and doctrine of 


the church which left little room for institutionalized au- 
thority in its almost total rejection of Roman Catholicism. 

Despite the fact that Protestant churches are not 
geared for action, some of the ablest leaders who are ex- 
erting the pressure for social change were nurtured by 
Protestant churches, even if they now deny the mother 
who gave them birth. Few of the people who are presently 
active in the struggle for racial justice have escaped the 
influence of the Judaeo-Christian ethic in one way or an- 
other. Indeed many of them have come disillusioned from 
the ranks of the Christian church itself — both Protestant 
and Catholic. 

Much of what we have said in this book concerning 
the behavior of Protestantism in the racial crisis does not 
apply to Negro churchmen and Negro congregations. 
What follows here is not an attempt to exempt any group 
from its share of guilt. Rather, it is to single out some of 
the accomplishments of this particular wing of the church 
and suggest certain hazards that challenge the Negro 

No one can seriously question the role played thus far 
in the racial crisis by Negro clergymen and congregations. 
From Birmingham to Buffalo, Negro church buildings 
have served for years as centers of operation for groups 
working for racial justice, and ministers have usually 
served as their leaders. In part this has been redemptive. 
For, in view of this fact, no one can say categorically that 
Protestantism is making no worth-while contribution to 
the desegregation process. In Montgomery, Nashville, At- 
lanta, Detroit, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Negro 
Protestants have kept the pressure on, brought into being 
organized protest movements and undergone suffering 
and sacrifice to effect social change. Although it has been 
groups such as the National Association for the Advance- 
ment of Colored People which have played the major or- 
ganizational role and have taken the giant legal steps, 


much of their leadership has come from within the 
churches. But in situations such as the Montgomery boy- 
cott and in many of the recent sit-in movements, it has 
been the institutional church itself that has made the 
greater contribution. Not only were the meetings held in 
church houses, but these meetings were essentially reli- 
gious meetings in which religious values were dominant. 
The prayers, the refusal to return evil with evil, the agree- 
ment of ministers and laymen to accept imprisonment, 
the acceptance by entire communities of legal harassment 
and economic deprivation — these are things familiar to 
these people and it must be said that this was and is the 
church playing a vital role in the achievement of justice 
for all people. 

It has often been said that the real key to the solution 
of our current problem of racism in America rests in the 
hands of the enlightened, liberal Negro churchmen, and 
not in the hands of white people — not even white people 
of good will. Actually it is strange that there should ever 
have been expected that white churchmen could be the 
real leaders of racial integration. Anyone even remotely 
familiar with community structure and organization, and, 
as we have seen, anyone acquainted with the Christian 
doctrine of man would not have entertained such a hope. 

The role of Negro churchmen in keeping the pressure 
constantly upon the status quo is a vital one. In every 
case desegregation has not come when a group of whites 
of good will gathered and said discrimination was wrong 
and should be stopped. Rather, it has come when a group 
of Negroes gathered and said: "We have been discrimi- 
nated against long enough. Let's stop it." This has been 
true in the schools of the South, and it has been equally 
true of housing, employment, and church membership in 
the North. There can be no minimizing the action- 
oriented witness of Negro churchmen. They have a dis- 
tinct and unique role to play, and there is no denying that 


thus far they have played it more than well. But the point 
we shall now try to make has nothing to do with all that, 
as significant as it well may be. 

What we need to see is that when God chooses people 
to do his work, it has nothing to do with the intrinsic 
merit of those he has called. The fact that God has sum- 
moned Negro churchmen to do his work in this crisis is 
not to their credit in the least. It has only to do with the 
Caller. It has nothing to do with the suffering of the 
chosen, the injustices wrought against them, the humilia- 
tion of being segregated as an inferior people, the incon- 
venience of discrimination. There is a clear parallel in the 
history of Israel. All these problems were also their prob- 
lems. They too were for a time slaves, maltreated and 
humiliated. They too were chosen. But the choice had 
nothing to do with Israel. When the Children of Israel 
asserted their rights, as if rights gave them special merit 
and justification, there was nothing but trouble and vio- 
lence from that moment. It was difficult to see what good 
could come from their struggles. The more they strove to 
be free, the more Pharaoh and the Egyptian majority 
caused them to suffer, and the more were arguments ad- 
vanced against their freedom. But Moses, an outside agi- 
tator with no obvious business in Egypt but to make 
trouble, persisted. The "Uncle Toms" of Israel grumbled 
throughout it all. "Would that we had died ... in the 
land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate 
bread to the full." (Ex. 16:3.) Pharaoh persisted in his 
policy through plagues of blood, frogs, gnats, flies, boils, 
ferocious weather, locusts, and darkness at noon — Litde 
Rock hanging on through a plague of no much-needed 
new industry for two spiteful years; New Orleans with its 
loss of Mardi Gras revenues — refusing to give in. 

The objective observer doubtless could see nothing but 
continued bitterness resulting from this kind of extreme 
recalcitrance. Certainly there were many moderates in the 


land who cautioned against the radical methods of the 
Jews. Israel won. Then lost. It won as long as the Is- 
raelites could see that they were chosen by a God whose 
aid in all their struggles proved nothing about themselves 
but only proved something about God — his supremacy, 
his sovereignty. Israel lost when the Israelites began to 
assume that all their afflictions and the favorable issue 
from them had to do with themselves. They lost when- 
ever they believed that their being chosen had been for 
their own glory. The sin of the Children of Israel was not 
that they caused trouble for Egypt. This was inevitable. 
And what could have been more natural than to believe 
that as a people they were somehow favored because of 
their successes? But God had called them to establish his 
supremacy and not their own. The sin of Israel was their 
assumption that their calling had to do with their cause 
rather than with God's purposes. 

If God has chosen Negro churchmen in this crisis, it 
is for the purpose of establishing to them, and to Amer- 
ica, something about himself. The fact that Negroes are 
in the vanguard of the fight for justice must not lead any- 
one to think that they are less guilty of sin than any other 
group. Whenever people assert their rights, whether in 
this country or anywhere in the world, there is trouble. 
There are riots in Montgomery, arrests in Jackson, and 
panic in Leopoldville. The Negro, like Israel, is called to 
destroy the idols, to smash the images which we have 
erected and which have become more important to us than 
God himself. And when idols fall, there is always trouble 
and violence. It is foolish to derogate those who seek re- 
dress and to blame them for ensuing violence and trou- 
ble. It is, however, the better part of wisdom to sound a 
warning. In the struggle for righteousness, God's right- 
eousness and God's purposes are the true meaning of the 
struggle. Here again it is not a matter of democracy, a 
man's rights, of constitution, of the Supreme Court. It is 


what God is able to do with sinful people and with sinful 
instruments to draw attention to himself and his purposes 
of redemption that matters. 

In the various movements led by the Negro churches 
there is serious need for theological depth. Many of these 
efforts being made by churchmen and presumably in the 
name of Christ are more humanistic than Christocentric. 
It is interesting, for example, to note the degree to which 
the name of Mahatma Gandhi is invoked in the literature 
of the desegregation campaigns. The entire nonviolent 
movement is built much more around the teachings of the 
great Indian leader than around the teachings of Jesus 
Christ. This despite the fact that Negro Americans, like 
all other Americans, have been more exposed to Christian 
doctrine than to the Gandhian philosophy and despite the 
fact that a rationale for nonviolence has traditionally been 
derived from the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. 

That Gandhi has been so widely used in this move- 
ment may reflect the Negro's subconscious rejection of 
Christianity as the white man's religion. The rapidly 
growing Black Muslim movement states this in unequiv- 
ocal terms as a major reason for repudiation of Chris- 
tianity. It is certainly understandable that the Negro has 
begun to look to other religions for spiritual substance to 
undergird his struggle for freedom. The danger is that the 
Christian church seems to offer nothing more than its in- 
stitutional form as a vehicle to accomplish ends motivated 
by an alien philosophy. 

It is nonetheless true that if there is to be real renewal 
of the church in our century it is possible that it will be 
achieved through the predominantly Negro communions, 
especially if there is no drastic change from their com- 
fort-loving, status-ridden complacencies by white Protes- 
tantism. It has always been that a suffering people seem 
to respond more readily to the call of God. 

But again the danger is that the response to the call 


will not be a true "covenanting" with God. It is a false idea 
of covenant to say to God: "If you will deliver us out of 
our afflictions we will be your people." This is not what a 
covenant relationship means. If Negro churchmen in 
America can see the covenant only as the privilege of 
serving God and living in communion with him, aware all 
the while of the dangerous condition of being a special 
agent of his holy concern, if they see man's role in the 
covenant as the acknowledgment of the unconditional 
sovereignty of the Ruler of the nations, then there is hope 
that Christianity will survive this period of testing. But if 
Negro churchmen begin to assume that on the basis of the 
covenant they are entitled to claim selfish rights before 
God and to be dealt with in some favored manner that 
accords with their own notion of what is good for them, 
there will not be a renewal of the church through them. 
The word "covenant" does not mean a bilateral contract 
between two equal parties. This was precisely Israel's sin. 
It is cause for alarm to hear repeatedly at freedom rallies : 
"We are going to win because God is on our side!" This 
is assumed in every revolution. It was assumed in the 
American Revolution, but what happened? "Jeshurun 
waxed fat, and kicked; . . . then he forsook God who 
made him, and scoffed at the Rock of his salvation." 
(Deut. 32:15.) 

The freedom movements working within the churches 
are, to some extent, the victims of the same theological 
shift mentioned earlier. They have tended to forget that 
there is something more at stake than the satisfaction of 
the individual, that man must find completion in One 
who is greater than himself, that the real basis for 
brotherhood is not humanitarianism but our common fal- 
libility before God. The indignities the Negro has known, 
the injustices he has endured, are a sin against God on the 
part of the majority, and the sour grapes we have eaten 
will set our children's teeth on edge for generations to 


come. The struggle for freedom should not, must not, and 
will not be stopped. But let us not permit the successes 
that are now evident to tempt us to be prideful. Let the 
warning be sounded that the victors, to their despair, often 
come to accept the gods of the vanquished. In so far as 
that god is not the God and Father of Jesus Christ, let the 
Freedom Movement and the rising Negro middle class that 
will gain momentum by its victory test the spirits which 
impel their forward march. God has called and is yet call- 
ing the Negro churches to be the source of renewal for 
the whole church of Christ. Upon their understanding of 
the true meaning of the struggle for racial justice hangs 
the possibility of the church seizing or missing the oppor- 
tunity God holds out to it in this generation. 

Chapter VII 

The Church: Prophet and Conservator 


done in the racial crisis. Modern prophets could have 
thundered from thousands of pulpits against the sin of 
segregation and injustice. The church could have given 
more time to the proclamation that in the sight of God 
there is no difference between black and white. The 
church could have led the attack on racism, first of all, 
by throwing wide its own doors to the Negro. These 
things a truly prophetic church would have done, but 
there is little to be gained by weeping for what might have 
been. There is still time for faithfulness. There is yet a 
chance for the church, if indeed we are still the church, 
to find its life, to be renewed. But if it happens, it will be 
God's doing and not ours. 

We have said that many religiously motivated people 
cannot find a channel within the institutional church to ex- 
press the social implications of their faith. But Protestant- 
ism does not hold that the Sunday morning expression of 
the church is the only type of the beloved community. Prot- 
estantism is free to encourage a congregation to find expres- 
sion in groups geared to accomplish their own purposes in 
mission. In a sense it is tragic that Christians seem 
obliged today to go outside the framework of the church 
to bear witness. Nevertheless, such a witness is valid and 



efforts to relate faith to secular action groups cannot be 
dismissed as outside the pale of Christian social action. 
It should, however, be acknowledged that more and more 
Protestants are finding it possible to work within the 
structure of the church. In one city, a congregation re- 
jected the gift of a valuable building site rather than com- 
promise its conviction on man's unity in God. In another 
community, an entire congregation endorsed a nonchurch 
committee that had been formed to try to reopen the 
public schools. Such instances are still exceptional, how- 
ever. More often it will be found that individuals are do- 
ing something, but that there is no concerted action by a 
congregation. One man is not a church. At the same time, 
we must not underestimate the significance of the state- 
ments condemning segregation that have been released by 
the major denominations. While such pronouncements do 
not ordinarily impress political leaders, they often give 
leverage to the local minister who faces congregational 
opposition in his efforts to be faithful to the gospel. 

Another obligation that many Protestants are begin- 
ning to accept is the correction of the flagrant misuse of 
Scripture by segregationists. For some years Protestant 
leaders assumed that people were not being influenced by 
the spurious use of certain Bible passages which appear to 
support racial prejudice. Some leaders considered it boor- 
ish and unsophisticated to fight over proof texts and cer- 
tainly not at the level that many of the segregationists had 
pitched the battle. It has now become obvious that the 
segregationist Protestant is neither rationalizing nor de- 
liberately deceiving when he cites what he thinks is Scrip- 
tural authority for his convictions. God became the orig- 
inal segregationist, he argues, when he turned some of 
Noah's children black. And did not Jesus teach in the 
Golden Rule that we were not to do unto others what we 
would not want them to do to us? "Therefore," continues 
the segregationist, "since I don't want others to force me 

church: prophet and conservator 75 

to integrate, it is my Christian duty to see that no one 
else is forced to integrate." 

To point out that these arguments are illogical and 
false is not enough. This man is usually incapable of 
grasping the meaning of mythic context of some of the 
Biblical literature and often he may be unable even to read 
the text correctly. We must remember the educational level 
of those who are the most ardent antagonists and keep in 
mind the constant flow of low grade emotionally inflam- 
matory literature that goes into the R.F.D. mailboxes. The 
only answer that will have meaning for these people is a 
steady refutation of segregation by citing chapter and 
verse. Even this may not succeed, but it appears to hold 
out the best promise for the present. 

Still another role that Protestants are assuming is the 
support of those clergy and laymen who have dared to put 
their faith into action whatever the cost. Several denomi- 
nations and groups as the National Council of Churches, 
American Friends Service Committee, United Presby- 
terian Church, the American Baptist Convention, and 
the United Church of Christ social action units have pro- 
vided financial and other assistance to numerous individ- 
uals who have been displaced or have suffered in bringing 
the imperatives of their faith to bear upon the racial crisis. 
Certain congregations that have experienced financial loss 
because of their witness have also been aided by these 
agencies. We cannot, however, overlook the possibility of 
a grave danger in this policy. Consider the case of the 
local pastor who is warned by his denominational execu- 
tive not to move too fast in the face of controversy lest 
there be a decline in membership or giving. When the 
pastor heeds the warning and his ministry flourishes in 
measurable terms, his ecclesiastical superior is apt to point 
out to him that God has blessed his cautious efforts and 
that it pays to serve Jesus in this way. 

But let us suppose the pastor is troubled by this and 


seeks to prove to his superior that one can be daring in his 
witness and still meet his denominational quotas. Un- 
fortunately it is true that this cannot always be done, and 
when a minister launches out into the deep of controversy 
he may discover that it does not pay to serve his Lord. 
Quotas are not met, the number of tithers decline, and the 
institutional structure does sag. It is at this point that we 
are tempted to come to the pastor's support to prove to 
the bishop or the presbytery that God will in a material 
way bless a strong witness in social relations. We try to 
protect the man from suffering and to shield his church 
from organizational failure. But is this consistent with the 
Christian understanding of evil and the necessities of 
faithful obedience? The Christian who does battle with 
the devil, the powers, the world rulers of this present 
darkness, will undoubtedly suffer. But often such suffer- 
ing is redemptive. When we try to mitigate the suffering, 
to prop up the faltering institution, and to insist that one 
can fight the world and the devil without suffering, we are 
denying a fundamental truth of Christian history and 
moral experience. 

In any case, the denominations, even though the pro- 
phetic voice at the congregational level has been disap- 
pearing from long disuse, have begun, however haltingly, 
to act with effect. And it is high time, for the issue of 
racial injustice is nationwide and must be fought on a 
wide front by the national denominations as well as local 
congregations. Apart from schools and places of public 
accommodation, it is difficult to distinguish between the 
treatment of Negroes in Do than, Alabama, and Mont- 
pelier, Vermont. A Negro looking for a house might easily 
have more trouble in suburban Philadelphia than in sub- 
urban Birmingham. A Jewish doctor might well be better 
received by the community in Vicksburg, Mississippi, 
than in Aberdeen, South Dakota. 

Throughout the world racial bitterness, suspicion, and 

church: prophet and conservator 77 

mistrust is poisoning community life. The Black Muslims 
flourish among Negro Americans and represent much 
more than the impulsive passions of a few hotheads. The 
resurgence of the Klan and the rapid growth of the White 
Citizens' Councils are not merely a manifestation of 
Southern die-hardism. This feeling shows up all over the 
land — in Levittown, Dearborn, Deerfield Park, Little 
Rock, Sylacauga, Fayette County. Everywhere man in his 
sin thinks more highly of himself than he ought and finds 
it convenient to regard himself different from and su- 
perior to his fellows. Everywhere men categorize and clas- 
sify one another. Everywhere race, color, class, religion, 
nationality tear men asunder. One cannot read a major 
daily paper anywhere in the world without finding at least 
one front-page story with racial and ethnic overtones — 
from South Africa to the Soviet Union, from England to 
the Congo, from Little Rock to Westchester County. 
Apart from the contest between communism and democ- 
racy, the struggle between the races, between the white 
and the colored peoples of the world, is the most deep- 
seated and perplexing problem of our time. We are in the 
midst of a revolution. Make no mistake about that. People 
of color will not halt in their drive for freedom. You can 
hear their song throughout the world, and it will not be 
silenced. It is the plainsong of the oppressed, the chant of 
the disinherited. "Free-dum. Free-dum." The passive and 
gentle bus rider in Alabama sings it as an anthem of 
praise; the restless and turbulent Congolese shouts it as a 
marching song. Neither will be stopped. Nor will the 
overarching seriousness of the East-West struggle and its 
eventual outcome silence the challenge that has been 
thrown down to the white man all over the world. 

These people will be frustrated again and again by the 
Verwoerds, the Eastlands, the Kaspers, and the Levitts, 
but they will not be stopped. Man, by nature, does not 
give up privilege and comfort, status and security, with- 


out a struggle. At the same time, man does not cease to 
yearn for freedom. All of us are caught between these 
forces, whether we are innocent victims or calculating 
participants. It is evident that we will experience an ex- 
tended social convulsion — a generation, perhaps more, of 
racial disharmony. 

But the church has in the past found spiritual renewal 
in just such a day as this. It has found renewal because it 
rediscovered its purpose, or perhaps because God, in such 
a day, chooses to exert his purpose. This can be a time of 
greatness for the church, its hour of faithful obedience to 
the Word of God. And yet even without the full measure 
of obedience God can use the church to serve his purpose. 
This truth should not make us lessen our effort, but it has 
always been so. It may be that in our day God will use the 
church in quite a different way than those of us who have 
been on the battle line have hoped. 

The church has always had two edges — a prophetic or 
pioneering edge and a stabilizing or conserving edge. 
Critics of the church usually see its conservative nature as 
the church's greatest weakness. In the present crisis in 
race relations this side of the church may become its 
strength and the source of the only important contribu- 
tion the church may make. 

Where civil disorder and commotion hold sway, where 
there is violence and strife, there is one role which the 
church has played well and may play with real effect in 
the future. This is what we may call by the rather un- 
lovely term "cleaning up the mess." There is no better 
way to put what must, in all events, be done, and what 
the church perhaps is able to do best. Generally speaking, 
white Protestantism cannot be expected to play an active 
role in getting Negro children into all-white schools, in 
breaking up ghettos and admitting Negroes and Jews to 
previously restricted neighborhoods, in carrying the full 
brunt of the fight for employment on a fair and non- 

church: prophet and conservator 79 

discriminatory basis. White Protestantism could do these 
things, but it will not. It will not engage in the rough-and- 
tumble of politics to force civil rights cases through the 
courts. It has usually and it may be expected to continue 
to act in the interest of peace, harmony, good will, and 
order within the fellowship of its members. As social in- 
stitutions, white Protestant churches are by nature con- 

Moreover, based on past performance, there is little 
likelihood that white Protestantism will play any signifi- 
cant role in preparing communities for true integration or 
even desegregation. This is not to minimize the good work 
that has been done in some situations. It is simply to say 
once again that Protestantism is not geared for this kind 
of action and will not seek to exert the influence neces- 
sary for such preparation. We are not saying that is the 
way it should be and that we are happy about it. As the 
thrust for freedom becomes more radical in method with 
freedom rides, sit-ins, jail-ins, the action of the churches 
becomes more irrelevant. The Protestant social action pro- 
fessional was considered a radical by the end of 1959. 
Today he is hardly considered a liberal by the new move- 
ments for desegregation. If Protestant social action does 
not shift its tactics for any other reason, it needs a new 
strategy to justify calling itself by that name. 

The task of "cleaning up the mess," if it comes to this, 
will be done well by the largely conservative Protestant 
denominations. For example, the churches in Clinton, 
Tennessee, played virtually no part in pressing for justice 
to admit Negro children to the public schools, and when 
they were admitted by court order they did little to pre- 
pare the community for an orderly transition. This was 
true to their conservative nature. A conservative institu- 
tion seldom threatens another conservative institution. 
But when the whole structure of the community was fall- 
ing apart, when cultural values even more sacred than 


racial views were threatened, that same conservative na- 
ture compelled the churches of Clinton to become in- 
volved. It was a "cleaning up," stabilizing, restoring job. 
For the churches to press for justice in court or commu- 
nity would be to jeopardize the success of revivals, mem- 
bership drives, building funds, every member canvasses, 
and the whole life of the institution. But mob rule, riots, 
general hysteria, and bad publicity were an even greater 
threat. Decency had to be restored, and with it came some 
modicum of justice. 

While a conservative institution will seldom threaten 
another conservative institution, it will almost always de- 
fend one. Thus, it was not that the Baptist church in 
Clinton had moved to a more liberal position when it sup- 
ported its minister who walked to school with the Negro 
children and was attacked by the mob. Instead, this was a 
clear demonstration and re-emphasis of its continued con- 
servatism. If their pastor had been beaten while circulat- 
ing a petition to admit Negro children to the schools, he 
probably would have been dismissed from his pulpit. Agi- 
tation by petition would have been a betrayal of the peace- 
loving nature of the church. But when he was beaten in 
what amounted to the defense of a still more important 
community value — peace and stability — he became some- 
thing of a Christian hero. The conservative nature of the 
institution had not changed. The identification of the 
enemy had. 

Thus, white Protestant churches can be counted upon 
to play a vital role when the walls of civilization are cav- 
ing in around them. In view of events, it must be ad- 
mitted that this "caving in" is one phase of the process 
that we are observing today in most communities and na- 
tions where the race problem exists. Whether it takes the 
Violent form of the crisis in the Congo or the one in 
Southern United States, or the more subtle — though al- 
ways potentially violent — developments in Harlem, Dear- 

church: prophet and conservator 81 

born, or Chicago, the result is largely the same. There are 
prophets within the Protestant fold who would like to see 
the church plug the dike with its right arm. Most of 
Protestantism is not willing to do this, but it is at least 
willing to rescue the drowning victims. And this much is 
not lightly to be dismissed. 

Most Protestants will agree that the judgment and jus- 
tice of God must precede any real reconciliation. They 
can avoid any doctrinal inconsistency by acknowledging 
that judgment and justice must come through channels 
other than the church — the NAACP, the courts, the 
President's Committee on Employment Opportunity — ac- 
cepting as the church's role the mending of a broken and 
shattered society, the putting of the pieces back together 
in some kind of order, the cleaning up of the mess. Some 
of us will doubtless argue that this falls far short of the 
ideals for which the church should stand and that such a 
"let John do it" attitude can be given no room in the faith. 
Both of these things are true. But we are a selfish people 
and God has used selfish motivations before, and he may 
use again our selfishness for his own glory. This is pre- 
cisely the point I wish to make. The church may be re- 
newed in spite of man. God may take our greed and ambi- 
tion, our fondness for the status quo, our desire for 
bigness and success, our concern for membership statis- 
tics, and use them in a manner we could never have 

If God permits the church to play the role of putting 
the pieces back together because we love harmony and 
order, that does not mean that he has removed from his 
church the responsibility for bearing a prophetic and pio- 
neering witness. It is only to say that this is the last 
chance. And if we are content with this, if it does not 
trouble us, we are in real trouble. But it is only recogniz- 
ing what God can do with our faithfulness, our fears, and 
our weak motivation. 


If the church does well this task of putting the pieces 
back together, it will have served its Lord despite itself; 
and it may even find its life. But let us be quite clear. 
Even so, the church must become, or allow itself to be- 
come, something it now is not. If we are looking for some- 
thing the church can do and still hold on to the success 
and glamour of the institution, even the conserving, re- 
storing role must be rejected. This role can be performed 
only at great risk and sacrifice. This is a skin graft; the 
operation is painful and hazardous to both patients. I am 
not suggesting this task as a way for the church to salve 
its conscience and still maintain the status quo. The 
church must be a haven for those weary of the battle. It 
cannot be just another pot in which to stew and boil. It 
must be the third race, the people of God, not the stiff- 
necked people of the culture. 

When the church was young and yet without a name, 
a descriptive title given to it by some outsiders was "the 
people who love one another." Whether or not this was 
a derisive cognomen is not clear. But the world today uses 
it in jest and has turned it into an epithet. It asks, "Where 
are the people who claim to love one another?" 

The church began as the people of God. The measur- 
ing rod by which Christians tested themselves in the "new 
creation" was whether or not they had love one for the 
other. "We know that we have passed out of death into 
life, because we love the brethren." (I John 3:14.) 
These people loved one another because they knew the 
tragedy of human existence and in their common frailty 
they saw the greatness and sovereignty of God. And the 
only raison d'etre of the people of God was and is the 
service of God. Therefore, before we can begin the task 
of mending the broken bits of society, our own humpty- 
dumptiness must be considered and remedied. We can 
deceive neither God nor ourselves. We cannot for long 
make ourselves believe that there are certain rights and 

church: prophet and conservator 83 

privileges which he has ordained for some of us and de- 
nied to others because of race. But as long as we languish 
in this sin we can only hope that God will take our selfish 
motives and enlarge his love for the world by using us to 
mend its wounds. 

Already there are signs of an ill wind blowing some 
good. One of the highlights of my experience during the 
past five years in a ministry that has taken me into every 
major racial crisis in the nation was to be a part of an in- 
terracial conference held in the Deep South for the pur- 
pose of discussing race relations. At the conclusion of the 
conference we knelt at the Lord's Table in a Methodist 
chapel in a Communion service following the order of 
the Presbyterian Church. The service was conducted by 
a white Congregationalist and a Negro Baptist minister. 
Kneeling together were Baptists, Episcopalians, Method- 
ists, Presbyterians, and members of other communions, 
without thought of race. 

This was no meeting for general fellowship. There 
were problems that had to be settled, but I know of no 
other occasion that would have brought the group to par- 
take of those holy mysteries in the spirit that prevailed in 
that chapel. When Christians are caught in a serious crisis 
they will sometimes transcend ecclesiastical structures and 
barriers. True ecumenicity at the grass roots might well 
be accomplished in a crisis long before it is achieved at the 
top level. This conference was held in the midst of a crisis 
— a crisis brought about by the weakness and ineptitude 
of institutionalized religion. 

Another example of unity born, not out of the strength, 
but out of the weakness, of the church in this crisis is 
now being seen throughout the country. Its symbol is a 
little lapel pin worn by members of various Christian 
bodies who have committed themselves to an informal 
fellowship of penitence called simply "Brothers." There 
are no dues, no membership roll, no officers. A group of 


individuals wear the pin and carry in their pocket a card 
which pledges them to remember at Mass, Holy Com- 
munion, quiet hours, worship services, and in their pri- 
vate devotions the brokenness of Christ's body because of 
racial divisions. 

If one inquires what the pin means, the "Brother" 
shows his card which explains the fellowship. If someone 
expresses an interest, he is given the pin and card and the 
Brother writes for another. He may secure another set 
from one of four addresses, all of them the offices of men 
who give their time and effort to the healing of racial 
division. One of these addresses is that of a Roman Cath- 
olic organization. Another is the address of an unofficial 
denominational office. A third is the location of a Prot- 
estant Council field office. The last is a local church. No 
one anticipates in this an early union of Rome, Canter- 
bury, and the rest of Christendom, but at least members 
of the separate branches of the holy catholic church at 
the unofficial and local level are being brought by the 
racial crisis to a recognition of the existence of each other. 

Still another case of ecumenicity that is a result of the 
racial crisis (really the crisis of the church) is a group of 
theological students who call themselves "The Student 
Interracial Ministry." These young men and women come 
from all over the country and are attending seminaries in 
New York, Atlanta, Washington, Nashville, and other 
cities. White students spend one or more summers as as- 
sistant pastors in Negro congregations. Negro seminarians 
do the same in white congregations. Denomination is not 
a factor. Race is, but only in order that race may someday 
cease to be a factor in the church of Christ. The broken 
body of our Lord may yet be healed because God is moving 
us to heal our own racial divisions in such movements as 

The churches are discovering many practical ways of 
helping their fellow Christians who are caught in the 

church: prophet and conservator 85 

throes of racial upheaval. But we must be willing to use 
no gimmicks, no program kits. The only way we can minis- 
ter to a man is to go with him. In the words of Barak to 
Deborah when he was assigned an almost impossible task: 
"If you will go with me I will go; but if you will not go 
with me I will not go" (Judges 4:8). More and more 
we see Christians, clergy and lay, "going with" fellow 
Christians, minority and majority alike. If he must suffer, 
we must suffer with him. If after our Gethsemane to- 
gether there must still be Calvary, we must go as far as 
we can go together. And many are finding in this crisis 
that though Gethsemane preceded Golgotha, it did not 
take its place. 

The early church did not exist in Utopia. Neither did 
it have the notion we seem to have today, that if it could 
somehow change the society in which it existed into a sea 
of tolerance and brotherly love then it could truly be the 
churchJTt is dishonest and cowardly to assume that if 
we can make culture into what the church wishes it to be 
but isn't, the church can then be what it ought to be. The 
church will not regain its health when it is able to influ- 
ence society to desegregate the many aspects of its life. 
Originally it was because of the brokenness, the misery of 
society, that the church could have any identification, any, 
existence at all. We may be living in such a time. / 

As significant as the prophetic edge of the church is, 
and as much as most of us regret the present dearth of 
prophets in the land, it may well be that heroic deeds 
will come, not by the appearance of more and greater 
prophets, but as God uses the conserving edge which is, 
from our point of view, the weakness of the church. Mak- 
ing the conscious decision to play the conserving role and 
put our house in order is far from what the church might 
fairly have been expected to do. And if even this much 
is done it is not something of which we can boast, for 
it will have been that which God has done through us 


and often despite ourselves. And if it is done, the King- 
dom will not have come, only the starting point will have 
been reached — that which was established at Pentecost 
concerning race will have been realized. 

If we must despair of man, let us not despair of God. 
If God accepts the church with its selfishness, its fears, 
its obsession with peace and prosperity, and uses it once 
again as the channel of his grace, then we can at least 
know that this beleaguered church still belongs to him 
and he has not despaired of man. 

Questions for Study and Discussion 

Chapter I. Are We Still the Church? 

1. Was the Supreme Court decision on segregation in the 
schools essentially a legal and sociological decision or essen- 
tially a religious decision? Is it possible to say that this de- 
cision was based on moral law to which the churches have 
borne a constant witness? 

2. It is true, as the author suggests on page 6, that it is 
the nature of man to be vindictive as a consequence of op- 
pression and exploitation? 

3. It has been said, and the author gives supporting Bibli- 
cal evidence, that "Christianity creates its own culture." How 
would you evaluate this contention? 

4. Many people, not all expressly segregationist, have 
argued that people prefer to go to churches of their own 
color. To what degree is this true or false? 

5. Does the church cease being the church when it re- 
fuses to admit persons of a minority group? What are the 
marks of a true church or the requisite factor which makes a 
church false? 

Chapter II. The Nature of the Problem 

1. To what extent must one differentiate between the 
Black Muslim movement and the National Association for 
the Advancement of Colored People? Can they be lumped 
together as racist? Further, are there significant differ- 



ences between the NAACP and the White Citizens' Coun- 

2. The author speaks of dormant racial prejudice in the 
North. Is this accurate, or would this be better designated 
as class or economic group prejudice? 

3. What is, if any, the linkage between political conserva- 
tism and the doctrine of racial segregation? What does the 
John Birch Society stand for, and what should be the attitude 
of the church toward it? 

4. What do you think of the author's refutation of the 
segregationist's argument from Genesis? Does the account of 
Creation really support a doctrine of racial assimilation? 

5. What is our responsibility as Christians to friends who 
say that they cannot, in good conscience, acknowledge the 
Tightness of racial integration? 

Chapter III. The Gods of Law and Order 

1 . The question of civil disobedience has come to the fore 
again in this country through the campaigns in the South 
of the sit-in movements. Is the Christian justified in disobey- 
ing the law when he believes such laws conflict with his 
religious convictions? 

2. The author admits that the social sciences, law, and 
humanitarianism "have a place in the church . . . but . . ." 
(page 32). Do you agree with his understanding of their role? 
To what extent does the gospel transcend these "human agen- 

3. Should Christian parents be willing to sacrifice the 
peaceful social adjustment of their child in school for the 
"radical faithfulness" of Abraham by enrolling the child in a 
school seething with racial tension? What does God expect 
from us in such moments of decision? What is the respon- 
sibility of the whole church, rather than individual parents, 
in such situations? 

Chapter IV. The Humanistic Detour 

1. Do you agree that the church has no right to criticize 
segregation and discrimination in secular society until it has 


desegregated its own local congregations and church agencies? 

2. What do you think of the author's approach to the 
segregationist Christian? If you grant its theological validity, 
would you also grant its realism and effectiveness? Should the 
two be considered mutually exclusive? Are we concerned 
with "success" in the struggle for racial justice and the racially 
inclusive church? 

3. The author insists that compassion in race relations is 
the wrong attitude with which to begin. Do you agree? Did 
Jesus regard men first with compassion or was he first con- 
cerned with their sin and alienation from God? What should 
be the basic motivation of the church today? 

4. How should the church respond to economic reprisals 
like those imposed upon the Negro farmers of Fayette County, 
Tennessee? In some areas Negro Christians have retaliated 
with economic boycott of white merchants. Is the boycott a 
legitimate means of Christian action? 

5. Do you think that pronouncement of the judgment of 
God is an effective means of making the modern American 
become aware of his sin? How is it received by people who 
are not members of the church? How can it be communi- 
cated with contemporary relevance? 

Chapter V. The Christian Concern and Starting Point 

1. What are the dangers of a "monolithic ecclesiastical 
structure" in the Protestant churches today? Is the loss of 
some democratic privileges in the church a reasonable and 
necessary price to pay for an effective social witness? 

2. How is the doctrine of God's sovereignty related to 
human brotherhood? Campbell contends that Christian race 
relations begins with this emphasis. Do you agree? What 
teaching of the church seems to you more basic? 

3. Is the dignity and worth of the human personality a 
Christian doctrine? What are the dangers of an excessive 
emphasis upon man, his needs, his rights and privileges? Is 
it too much to assume that oppressed groups will understand 
the idolatry of basing the struggle for justice upon anything 
other than God's sovereign will to turn men from their own 
needs to his judgment and mercy? 


Chapter VI. Accomplishments and New Dangers 

1. How much should a pastor undertake an active witness 
in race relations without the official support of his congrega- 
tion? Is it feasible for the General Assembly of the church to 
move out in race relations and other social questions beyond 
the attitude and commitment of the churches? 

2. Is it enough for the church to send leaders in the strug- 
gle for justice into secular organizations to carry on the fight 
or should the church itself enter the struggle at the level of 
politics and direct action? Will this blunt the religious ef- 
fectiveness of its ministry? 

3. What should be the role of the Negro churches? Should 
the white churches encourage them to carry on the effort for 
racial justice and play a strong supporting role rather than 
pre-empt their right of initiation and leadership? 

4. Do you consider the use of Gandhian philosophy a dan- 
gerous trend in the desegregation movements? Can Christian- 
ity use this philosophy and method for social change without 
losing its distinctive Christian orientation? 

Chapter VII. The Church: Prophet and Conservator 

1. What is the value of church public pronouncements in 
the area of race relations? Should local churches make them? 

2. Should economic assistance be provided for clergymen 
who are under economic duress because of their stand on the 
race problem? 

3. Is it too pessimistic a view of the contemporary church 
to assume that only its "conservative role" will be relevant to 
the present crisis in race relations? How would you modify 
this point of view as stated by Campbell. 

4. What are the encouraging signs of the prophetic role 
and the renewal of the church in the movement for justice 
and human rights in your community? What can be done 
to strengthen this aspect of the church's witness? Is the 
"Brothers movement" a prophetic or conservative response? 

5. Should the main burden of the church's witness be upon 
changing society or changing people in the church and heal- 
ing denominational fragmentation in America? 

4 2 2 16 


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